January is the Thyroid Awareness Month of the year. But do we know what thyroid is and how it affects our body?
According to research by the American Thyroid Association, 1 in 10 people suffer from a thyroid disorder. As many as 20 million Americans suffer from a thyroid disorder. More than half of the cases are undiagnosed.
What causes a thyroid is still unknown but if left undiagnosed, can cause various problems. Like an increased risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and infertility.
The thyroid plays a major role in our body. It regulates metabolism, body temperature and other physical functions. The thyroid produces hormones to keep our body functioning at a certain rate.
What is the thyroid?
It is a small butterfly-shaped gland found in the lower neck. The gland produces the hormones T3 and T4. It is located above the collarbone and in front of the windpipe. The role of these hormones is to help regulate metabolism, manage body temperature and control heart rate.
If these hormones are overproduced or underproduced, they can cause serious health issues.
The two most common diseases related to the thyroid are:
What is hyperthyroidism?
When the T4 (thyroxine) hormone is overproduced in the body, it causes hyperthyroidism. It is also known as an overactive thyroid. This disease causes an increase in metabolism which leads to weight loss and an irregular heartbeat. It affects about 1% of the population. It is five times more common in women than in men. It usually affects people under the age of 50 years and results in enlargement of the thyroid gland.
It also causes insomnia, increased appetite, excessive perspiration and diarrhea.
Even though it is associated with more energy, it can sometimes lead to a body break down and make one feel more tired.
Other symptoms of hyperthyroidism are:
Oversensitive to heat
Dry, thin skin
What is hypothyroidism?
It is more common than hyperthyroidism. It happens when the body cannot produce enough of the thyroid hormone. It results in a slow down of the body functions. It is also known as under-active thyroid. It affects heart rate, body temperature, and metabolism.
It mostly affects people over the age of 60 years and increases with age. In older people, it can cause memory impairment, weight loss and loss of appetite. These happen because of old age as well, therefore, hypothyroidism is relatively difficult to diagnose in older people and remains under-diagnosed.
The possible causes of hypothyroidism are autoimmune disease, certain medicines or surgical removal of a part of the thyroid gland.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
Sensitive to cold/heat
Weight gain and inability to lose weight
Numbness in limbs
Other diseases that can happen because of improper functioning of the thyroid gland are Hashimoto’s disease and thyroid cancer.
Thyroid cancer is of four types:
Papillary thyroid cancer is the most commonly differentiated thyroid cancer. It may spread to the lymph nodes of the neck even though it grows slowly.
Follicular thyroid cancer is the second most common thyroid cancer. It grows near areas where there is a high iodine deficiency in the body. It is easiest to cure.
Medullary thyroid cancer is rare and mostly hereditary. It has higher chances of spreading to the lymph nodes of the neck than other types.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer is the most aggressive form of thyroid cancer and is the rarest of all. It grows rapidly and spreads easily, therefore it is the most dangerous one.
How to diagnose thyroid disorders?
They can either be self-diagnosed at home first and later consulting the doctor is the best way to be sure.
For self-diagnoses, one can perform the following:
Stand in front of the mirror or take a hand mirror above the collarbones where the area below you Adam’s Apple is visible.
- Tilt your head back and take a sip of water.
- Swallow the water and watch your neck for signs of bulging.
- Repeat a few times to make sure you don’t see obvious signs of bulging.
- If you see a huge bulge, nodule or an enlarged gland, contact a physician.
The only way to confirm you have a thyroid disease and which one is it, it by going through a blood test.
The treatment usually includes medication to regulate hormone production. Doctors usually treat it with medications, iodine or hormones. In some cases, one may also need to undergo therapy or surgery.
Thyroid awareness month is recognised to increase awareness about the disorders related to thyroid and their possible symptoms. The symptoms of a thyroid disorder are common in other disorders as well. Therefore it can become difficult to diagnose it and remain ignored. Thyroid disorders are not curable or preventable but are treatable. Consulting your doctor and getting regular health checkups can improve the quality of living to a great extent.