Did you know that up to 20 million Americans have thyroid issues? What’s more is that many of these individuals don’t even know that something is wrong. This January, as part of Thyroid Awareness Month, we want to bring attention to the surprisingly common problems that impact people because of their thyroid. Armed with some knowledge, you’ll hopefully be able to ensure you see a medical professional if you suspect you are experiencing problems related to your thyroid.
Where is the thyroid, and what does it do?
Despite its importance, many of us don’t actually know very much about the thyroid. Located in the neck, behind the larynx, this tiny, butterfly-shaped gland plays a key role in many of our body’s processes. Hormones produced by the thyroid affect the functioning of several major organs, as well as critical functions like the regulation of body temperature and heart rate.
Are thyroid issues common?
Unfortunately, thyroid problems are quite common. In fact, thyroid problems are more prevalent than even heart disease or diabetes. Furthermore, thyroid issues are often left undiagnosed, causing people lots of suffering that could otherwise be addressed if there were more awareness. Women are at least five times more likely than men to suffer from thyroid problems. One’s risk of facing thyroid issues also increases with age and if they have a family history of these issues.
Hypothyroidism describes a thyroid that is performing sluggishly. Of the population with thyroid disease, about 80% have hypothyroidism. An underactive thyroid slows down your body’s processes, which can have far-ranging negative effects. Those with hypothyroidism may face weight gain, sleepiness, muscle aches and weakness, sensitivity to cold, dry skin, constipation, and thyroid swelling. Treatment for hypothyroidism can involve taking medications that increase hormone production to healthy levels.
Conversely, hyperthyroidism speeds up your body’s inner workings and can result in other unpleasant health problems. People with hyperthyroidism might experience anxiety, irritability, feverishness, weight loss, difficulty sleeping, and an irregular heartbeat. Hyperthyroidism isn’t as easy to remedy as hypothyroidism. The small number of medications that treat hypothyroidism often come with harmful side effects. In some cases, patients may require radiation treatment or surgical removal of their thyroid, followed by lifelong medication to provide the missing hormones the thyroid was producing.
There are four forms of thyroid cancer, but overall it is fairly rare relative to other types of cancer. The American Cancer Society predicts there will be about 52,000 new cases of thyroid cancer in the U.S. in 2019. Thyroid cancer also has a better survival rate than most other cancers. It can be difficult to spot early on, but symptoms can include swelling or discomfort in the neck, hoarseness, difficulty breathing, and pain or difficulty swallowing.