Has your sex drive decreased recently? Have you been constipated lately? Do you have brain fog or unusual fatigue? Are you unusually sensitive to heat or cold?
You could have a thyroid problem and not even know it. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 750 million people in the world have some form of thyroid disease, and as many as 60 percent of those are undiagnosed.
Because January is Thyroid Awareness Month, our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter want to take this opportunity to share some facts you may not know about this critical gland in your body.
About Thyroid Disease
Many people go through their lives feeling “blah” or “not right” or putting up with symptoms they think is just a part of life, when in fact a malfunctioning thyroid is the real issue.
This gland, shaped like a butterfly, is located at the front of the neck, just below the Adam’s apple. It produces a hormone (thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH) that influences nearly all the metabolic processes in the body. So when something goes wrong, this little gland can produce big problems.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that women are more likely than men to have thyroid disease. One in eight women will develop thyroid problems during their lifetime. Anyone over age 60, especially women, is at higher risk of developing thyroid disease, along with anyone who has diabetes.
In women, thyroid disease can cause several issues specific to their sex, including problems with the menstrual period, problems with getting pregnant, and problems during pregnancy.
In general, the two main types of thyroid disorders result from either underproduction or overproduction of TSH, and the symptoms of each are generally opposites of each other, although thyroid dysfunction can have hundreds of possible symptoms.
These two main disorders, hyperthyroidism, and hypothyroidism can result from many different causes, and can also be inherited.
Symptoms of Each Type
Hyperthyroidism results from the overproduction of thyroid hormones, thereby speeding up every process in the body. The heart beats faster, food is digested more rapidly, the kidneys process urine more quickly, etc.
Some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include:
-muscle weakness, especially in the upper arms or thighs
-hair loss/fine brittle hair
-heart palpitations/irregular heartbeat/racing heart
-sensitivity to heat
-carpal tunnel syndrome
-more frequent bowel movements
-light or less frequent menstrual cycles
Hypothyroidism is the more common type of thyroid disease, in which the thyroid doesn’t release enough thyroid hormone. As you might expect, with this type of thyroid problem every process in the body slows down.
Some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism can include:
-sensitivity to cold, especially cold hands and feet
-constipation and gas
-pain, stiffness, or swelling in joints
-brain fog/memory problems
-irregular or heavy menstrual periods
-thinning hair or hair loss
There can also be other symptoms, and they vary from person to person. Often they are dismissed as stressed, feeling “run down,” or simply aging. So you can see why so many people have undiagnosed thyroid dysfunction.
Another type of thyroid issue that frequently has no symptoms is thyroid cancer. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), thyroid cancer is the most common form of cancer in women between the ages of 20 and 34, and the only symptoms may be difficulty swallowing, or sometimes throat pain accompanied by a persistent cough.
Approximately one percent of Americans are diagnosed with thyroid cancer in their lifetimes, representing about two percent of all cancer cases in the U.S. The good news is that this cancer is highly treatable, even in advanced stages.
And treatment for an over- or underactive thyroid is simple, safe, and effective. This includes anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine, and beta-blockers to help control symptoms.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important that you let us know so you can get treatment. Untreated thyroid disease can damage many organs of the body, including the heart and kidneys.
Keeping it Healthy
Here are some steps you can take to keep your thyroid healthy.
- Be sure the salt you use is iodized. Many of the specialty salts do not contain iodine. The thyroid requires iodine to function properly, but the recent popularity of such specialty salts as sea salt and Himalayan salt has reduced the amount of iodine in some diets. Too little iodine can result in hypothyroidism.
- Avoid uncooked cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts kale, watercress, and kohlrabi. These particular vegetables contain substances called goitrogens that interfere with the efficient synthesis of thyroid hormones. Cooking inactivates these substances, making them safer to eat.
- Opt for more seafood in your diet, especially crab, shrimp, lobster, clams, and mussels. All of these are rich sources of iodine.
- Avoid processed foods. Although high in sodium, processed and packaged foods do not contain iodized salt.
These guidelines can help maintain the health of your thyroid. But do not try to self-treat a suspected thyroid problem, especially with iodine supplements, which can make symptoms worse.