January is Thyroid Health Awareness Month

By Ginger Bane, Nurse Practitioner

The thyroid gland is located in front of the neck just below the larynx, which is also known as the Adam’s apple. It is a tiny butterfly shaped gland that plays a significant role in one’s health and wellbeing. The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, a collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate many vital functions in your body. In our office, we screen for thyroid dysfunction at routine annual exams and when patients complain of symptoms associated with thyroid dysfunction. We most often encounter hypothyroidism in our patients. Hypothyroidism means a slow or underactive thyroid gland.

The thyroid produces thyroid hormones (t3 and t4). If there is a decrease in these hormones the pituitary gland releases TSH to stimulate or remind the thyroid to produce hormones. Classic hypothyroidism would be an elevated TSH > 3 and low or suboptimal thyroid hormones. We also treat patients with a normal TSH that have a low or suboptimal Free t3.

What causes hypothyroidism? Typically Hashimoto Disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the gland. Nutritional deficiencies, especially iodine, can also impede thyroid function.

How common is it? More than 27 million Americans have some type of thyroid disorder and it becomes more common as we age.

What are the symptoms? Fatigue, cold sensitivity, trouble losing weight or weight gain, dry hair and skin, depression, and poor digestion. Everything slows down.

How is it treated? Depending on symptoms and lab values, we may recommend iodine with zinc and selenium accompanied by a low inflammatory diet and stress reduction. In many cases, medication is needed to replace the thyroid hormones that are no longer being produced correctly by the thyroid gland.

Although not commonly seen, I will briefly mention Hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid, occurs when your thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. Hyperthyroidism accelerates your body’s metabolism which can cause unintentional weight loss, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, loose stools, protruding eyeballs, and sweating, just to name a few. Treatment most often includes radioactive iodine and in some cases medication or surgery.

If you are having any symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, please be sure to let your provider know so we can properly diagnose and treat you.