Understanding Your Thyroid
And Potential Complications to Look Out For
The thyroid serves a very important role in regulating our health, yet many have no idea what that role is nor the complications that can arise. Here we break down the basics to bring more understanding to this important gland and what you can do to maintain its health for your health.
What is your thyroid gland and what does it do?
Part of the endocrine system, the thyroid is an important gland responsible for producing hormones that regulate metabolism, the production of proteins, and interactions with other hormones. Thyroid hormone helps your heart pump blood, stimulates your brain and muscles, and keeps your body at a healthy temperature. Often described as a butterfly shape, the thyroid sits in the mid-portion of the neck.
Understanding Hypothyroidism vs Hyperparathyroidism
Hypothyroidism – also known as “slow thyroid” or underactive, is when your thyroid gland does not make enough hormones. You may end up feeling a bit slow, and perhaps cold. You might have mild fatigue, memory or concentration problems, decreased sex drive, or have trouble losing weight. The main treatment is to use a synthetic form of T4 hormone, called Levothyroxine, that simply replaces what your body isn’t producing.
Hyperparathyroidism, or often referred to as overactive, is the overproduction of parathyroid hormone. Hyperparathyroidism occurs when at least one of your four parathyroid glands grows into a benign (non-cancerous) tumor and makes excess parathyroid hormone, whether you need it or not. Many people with hyperparathyroidism show no symptoms so the disease is often discovered accidentally when conducting blood tests. Surgery to remove the tumor is required for long-term control of hyperparathyroidism.
Who is at risk of developing a Thyroid disease?
Thyroid disorders are quite common, affecting an estimated 20 million people in the United States, and can be seen in all genders and ages. Sometimes it is present at birth and other times it develops as you age. Women are at least 5 times more likely to develop a thyroid condition compared to men.
Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Disease
Hashimoto’s disease is one of the most common causes of an underactive thyroid in the United States. It is an autoimmune disease which means your immune system, responsible for protecting your body against disease, produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland, decreasing its ability to produce enough hormones for your body. It is a slow progressing disease and can be detected by having your doctor order blood tests to measure your hormone levels.
Hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease
Graves’ disease is also an autoimmune disease and it is the most common cause of an overactive thyroid. Your immune system mistakenly produces antibodies called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins that attach to your healthy thyroid cells and cause them to produce too much thyroid hormone. Some common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include hand tremors, weight loss, rapid heart rate (tachycardia), intolerance to heat, and fatigue. As with Hashimoto’s disease, your doctor can detect hyperthyroid by testing your hormone levels.
Why has there been an increase in thyroid cancer in recent years?
Initially, scientists pointed to the use of better imaging techniques like ultrasound and high resolution scanning that allow doctors to detect thyroid cancer more easily. However, most recently there have been more cases of aggressive thyroid cancer which lead doctors to believe that there are other factors at play, such as the environment. Everything we come in contact with through our skin, air, and water has an impact on our physiology, which in turn can impact our endocrine system.
“We don’t yet know what causes thyroid cancer nor do we have answers for its dramatic increase, but thankfully, 85% of the cases are papillary thyroid cancer, one of the most curable human cancers,” says Dr. Eric Genden, renowned head and neck surgeon at Mount Sinai and named one of the 20 most innovative surgeons alive today for performing the first tracheal transplant surgery in the world. Check out our recent interview with Dr. Genden for more on thyroid cancer.
Since most thyroid cancer is asymptomatic, some patients go undiagnosed for months or years until symptoms develop. Your best tool to fight thyroid cancer is early detection through annual ultrasounds.
How can you protect the health of your thyroid?
Stay informed and be proactive about getting your thyroid checked. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor and don’t ignore symptoms. Keep in mind a diet rich in antioxidants and iodine can support the health of your thyroid.
For more information, contact the Health Center team. Personal Health Navigators are available by chat through the member portal or by calling 646.819.5100.