Do you feel off lately, like your body is changing in small but frustrating ways? Do you notice a difference in your energy level, mood and weight?
Don't just chalk up these symptoms to the stress of your endless to-do list. Instead, add something to that list – make a doctor's appointment. Because you may be one of 20 million Americans who has thyroid disease.
Thyroid Disease: Easy To Miss
Although a simple blood test is all that's needed to find out if you have thyroid disease, up to 60 percent of people go undiagnosed, according to the American Thyroid Association. Because symptoms of a thyroid condition are wide-ranging and vague, they're often mistaken for signs of aging or stress.
The thyroid plays a crucial role in metabolism and the functioning of the brain, heart and other vital organs – so having a thyroid problem affects how you function daily. Learn how to spot the signs of thyroid disease.
What Does The Thyroid Do?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the front of your neck under your voice box. It creates hormones that help regulate your metabolism, body temperature, energy level and heart rate as well as growth in children.
How Common Is Thyroid Disease?
Thyroid problems are common, affecting up to an estimated 20 million Americans. There are three types of thyroid issues that can occur:
When the thyroid overproduces hormones, it's called hyperthyroidism. An overactive thyroid is often caused by Grave's disease, an autoimmune disorder in which your body mistakenly attacks the thyroid.
Having too much thyroid hormone in your bloodstream can speed up body processes and have wide-ranging effects. The symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Nervousness, irritability or anxiety
- Racing heart rate
- Shaky hands
- Difficulty sleeping
- Unexpected weight loss
- Lighter and less frequent menstrual periods
- Feeling hotter than usual and increased sweating
Hypothyroidism, or under-active thyroid, is when the thyroid doesn't produce enough hormones. Hashimoto's disease – an autoimmune disorder that reduces the thyroid's ability to produce hormones – is frequently the cause of hypothyroidism.
Anyone can develop the condition, although women older than 60 years of age are the most frequent patients.
Although the symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary greatly, problems frequently develop slowly and can take years to become bothersome. Initial signs of hypothyroidism are often fatigue and weight gain, but symptoms may start to add up and become more severe as the condition goes untreated for an extended period of time.
The lack of thyroid hormones creates an imbalance that results in general and vague symptoms throughout the body, such as:
- Dry skin
- Unexpected weight gain
- Feeling colder than usual
- Joint or muscle pain or weakness
Abnormal thyroid growth can affect the functioning of the thyroid gland, too:
- Thyroid nodules are small bumps that grow on the thyroid and are very common. Up to 50 percent of people over the age of 50 have thyroid nodules. Most of the time, the nodules are harmless and don't cause any symptoms. However, in a small number of cases, they can be cancerous, grow large enough to press against the windpipe or lead to hyperthyroidism.
- Goiters occur when the entire thyroid gland becomes enlarged, causing swelling in the neck. This condition is typically due to an iodine deficiency, which is rare in the American diet. But those with hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism can also develop a goiter.
Who Is Most At Risk For Thyroid Problems?
A thyroid problem can happen to anyone. But women are five to eight times more likely to develop thyroid disease. Other risk factors of a thyroid condition include:
- Being over the age of 60
- Recent pregnancy
- Past thyroid surgery
- Family history of thyroid disease
- Having an autoimmune disease such as Type 1 diabetes
- Previous treatment with radiation, radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications
When Should You See A Doctor?
If you experience signs of a thyroid condition, it's important to talk to your doctor. Keep a list of symptoms and possible risk factors to discuss at your appointment.
To find a specialist or for a second opinion, search our physician directory for an endocrinologist.
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