As Thyroid Awareness Month, January is a perfect time to share some information about Thyroid health.
The thyroid – a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the lower neck – is the engine of the body’s metabolism. It secretes two hormones, triiodothyronine, commonly referred to as T3 and thyroxine, commonly referred to as T4. These hormones help regulate how the body uses and stores energy.
There are two versions of thyroid disease. Hypothyroidism is the underproduction of thyroid hormone, and hyperthyroidism is overproduction of the thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism is the most common form of the disease – of the estimated 30 million people in the U.S. who have thyroid dysfunction, the majority have hypothyroidism.
It’s not entirely clear what causes thyroid disorders, but they are most common in women, and scientists estimate that as many as 60 percent of thyroid disorders could be undiagnosed.
When the thyroid gland is unable to produce an adequate amount of thyroid hormone, it results in the “slowing down” of many bodily functions. Hypothyroidism is usually a permanent condition.
In the early stages of hypothyroidism, patients may not notice many symptoms – the body is often able to compensate for its loss in function by increasing stimulation. But as thyroid hormone production continues to decrease, and the body’s metabolism slows, patients with hypothyroidism may experience these symptoms:
- Difficulty learning
- Dry, brittle hair and nails
- Dry itchy skin
- Puffy face
- Sore muscles
- Weight gain and fluid retention
- Heavy and/or irregular menstrual cycles
- Increased risk for miscarriage
- Increased sensitivity to medications
For patients who carry risk factors for hypothyroidism, a simple blood test can identify low levels of thyroid hormones before symptoms arise.
Hypothryoidism is diagnosed with a blood tests. It can be treated with thyroid hormone replacement therapy, which will alleviate symptoms, in most cases, within two weeks of starting therapy. Patients with severe symptoms may require several months of treatment before they fully recover.
It is important to never increase or decrease your thyroid hormone replacement dose without first consulting a healthcare provider. Over replacement of thyroid hormone can result in irregular heart rate or accelerated bone loss, commonly referred to as osteoporosis.
If you’re interested in more information about hypothyroidism, see this information sheet.
Hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid, develops when the thyroid is exposed to excess amounts of thyroid hormone. It’s a condition that affects about one percent of Americans and occurs 5 to 10 times more often in women than in men.
In mild form, signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism may be unrecognizable, but they can progress to become discomforting, disabling, and even life threatening. Hyperthyroidism may present the following signs and symptoms:
- Increased heart rate (greater than 100 beats per minute)
- Increased anxiety and irritability
- Trembling hands
- Weight loss despite eating the same amount or more than usual
- Heat intolerance
- Increased perspiration
- Loss of scalp hair
- Separation of fingernails from nail bed
- Muscle weakness, especially in upper arms and thighs
- Loose and more frequent bowel movements
- Smooth skin
- Change in menstrual pattern
- Increased risk for miscarriage
- Protrusion of the eyes, with or without double vision
- Irregular heart rhythm, especially at greater than 60 years of age
- Increased risk of bone fracture and osteoporosis
Hyperthyroidism is also treatable using medication, which will alleviate symptoms. As with all medication, consult a healthcare provider before changing your dosage.
If you’re interested in more information about hyperthyroidism, see this information sheet.
For more information about Tria Health and the importance of Medication Therapy Management (MTM), visit our website.