According to the American Thyroid Association, roughly 20 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid disease. While anyone with a thyroid gland can develop thyroid problems, people over 60 typically run a higher risk of having thyroid issues – particularly hypothyroidism. So, in the spirit of Thyroid Awareness Month, we’d like to take a moment to educate our readers about these essential, but often temperamental little glands.
The thyroid gland is located at the base of your neck above the notch at the top of your sternum. A healthy thyroid is so small that you won’t be able to feel it. If your thyroid is swollen, you might feel a slight lump on the front of your windpipe.
Your thyroid gland releases a number of important hormones that help to control and maintain your body’s internal systems. Temperature regulation, metabolism, heart rate, and tissue development are all influenced by thyroid hormones. Likewise, if and when thyroid issues do arise, they can manifest themselves in all sorts of unpleasant ways.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, increased sensitivity to temperature changes, joint pain, and depression. Because the symptoms are so varied, hypothyroidism can be difficult to diagnose.
On the flip side, hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid starts pumping out an excessive amount of hormones. People with overactive thyroid glands may experience heart palpitations, sudden weight loss, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.
Statistically speaking, women are far more likely than men to have malfunctioning thyroid glands. As many as one in eight women will suffer from some form of thyroid disease at some point in their lifetime.
The causes of thyroid disease are nearly as diverse as the symptoms. Autoimmune disease is one of the most common causes. In this case, misguided antibodies attack healthy thyroid tissue instead of the harmful cells they’re supposed to target. The thyroid, in turn, struggles to properly regulate hormone production. Some medications – particularly lithium – can also have adverse effects on the functionality of your thyroid gland.
Do you think you or a loved one might be suffering from a thyroid disease? Thyroid problems often go undiagnosed because it’s easy to write off symptoms such as fatigue and joint pain as common, unrelated ailments. For more information, check out the additional resources section of our FAQ page.