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Published: January, 2014; Vol 10, Num 8

 

January Is Thyroid Disease Awareness Month:

Feeling Out of Sorts?
Maybe It's Your Thyroid

It's not unusual to be exhausted both physically and emotionally after the holidays, but sometimes the hustle and bustle of the season is not responsible.

Thyroid Cancer Alert

Doctors are not sure why, but incidences of thyroid cancer are on the rise. Studies find that since the 1970s, the number of thyroid cancer cases has more than doubled. In 2009, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated there were 37,000 new cases of thyroid cancer in the United States. The ACS expects that when figures for 2013 are tabulated, the number of new cases of thyroid cancer will have climbed to 60,000. Treatment for thyroid cancer includes surgery to remove the thyroid gland followed by thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Thyroid cancers usually respond well to treatment when they are caught early.

If the New Year finds you habitually tired, down in the dumps or just feeling generally off kilter, it's not necessarily the fallout of too many parties and all those high-sugar, high-fat foods in which you indulged. It could be that your thyroid gland isn't working properly.

Located at the base of the neck and weighing less than an ounce, the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland  releases hormones that regulate metabolism. It affects all bodily functions and the efficiency of many of the most important organs including the heart, brain, liver and skin. The thyroid gland is like a car engine. When it isn't running smoothly, you aren't either.

More than 20 million Americans and Canadians have some form of thyroid disease.  Most of those who do are unaware. Sometimes, a painless lump or nodule on the thyroid can be felt, but most symptoms of thyroid disorders are vague and easy to misdiagnose as indicators of more common conditions. This can lead to ineffective medical treatment. For example, an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can cause:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Unexplained weight loss  

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Forgetfulness
  • Feeling hot all the time
  • Unexplained weight gain

Both an overactive and an underactive thyroid gland can sometimes grow larger than normal, which can lead to swelling in the lower part of the neck. This condition, known as a goiter, can make breathing and swallowing difficult. It can also cause coughing and hoarseness.

Undiagnosed and misdiagnosed thyroid disease increases risk for other serious conditions including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and infertility. Women with untreated thyroid conditions who become pregnant are at increased risk of miscarriage, giving birth prematurely and having children with severe developmental problems.

Treatment of thyroid disease depends on the type and severity of the disorder and the age and general health of the patient. The conditions that cause hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are usually lifelong, but they can be managed with medication. A simple blood test can help your health care provider diagnose whether or not you have a thyroid problem and what type of treatment you need.

It's one thing to feel out of sorts from the holidays for a few days. It's another thing when it's chronic. If this is what you are experiencing, talk to your health care provider about having your thyroid tested. Get the help you need so that you can start feeling like yourself again.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]