January is Thyroid Awareness Month, and this little butterfly-shaped organ in our neck plays a huge role in many main body functions including the heart, brain , bones, muscles, ovary, metabolism, and more. 5 percent of people n the United States have either an over-active or under-active thyroid dysfunction, so how can we tell which we have, and how to know when it's working overtime or not hard enough?
Dr. Diana Bitner, a menopause and women's health specialist at Spectrum Health, explains how to tell if a thyroid is healthy, and what we can do to reduce symptoms.
Thyroid hormone is made and stored in the thyroid gland and goes in the blood and throughout the body, binding to cells and helping the cells do their jobs. Iodine is an important ingredient in thyroid hormone production and is used by the gland to manufacture the active hormone.
The thyroid gland is controlled in part by the pituitary gland in the brain which secretes TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone to stimulate the gland to make more or release more active thyroid hormone, or T4. If these levels are too high or too low, further evaluation can be done to check for why there might be dysfunction.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common form of under-active thyroid disease, and is caused by an overactive immune process in which our body makes antibodies against the thyroid tissue and essentially can destroy the gland. Symptoms to watch out for in a low-functioning thyroid are:
- Cold intolerance
- Dry skin, thin hair
- Brain fog, depression
- Low blood pressure, slow heart rate
- Unexplained fatigue
- Muscle weakness
- Unexplained weight gain
- Puffy face
- Heavy or irregular periods
- Elevated cholesterol
The most common overactive thyroid disease is also caused by an an auto-immune process and is called Graves Disease. The thyroid gland is overactive and goes into overdrive with thyroid hormone production. An overactive thyroid can result in the following:
- Heat intolerance
- Oily skin
- Racing thoughts
- Racing heart
- Anxiety, nervousness
- Brittle hair
- Muscle weakness, fatigue
If left unchecked, long-term effects of thyroid dysfunction can result in bone loss, heart disease, infertility, heart problems, and neuropathy.
So how can someone physically tell there's something wrong with their thyroid? If thyroid hormone gets trapped in the gland, lumps or cysts can develop. Some thyroid cysts or nodules do not go away and need to be evaluated with ultrasound and/or biopsy in order to confirm the lumps are not cancerous.
Thyroid cancer is not uncommon, and it is important we all do regular ‘neck checks’. All that is involved is to stand in front of mirror and look at the front of the neck and swallow-looking for a lump in the neck that moves up and down on either side of the midline. If there's a lump, contact your primary doctor to get checked out.
Dr. Bitner's office is located at 3800 Lake Michigan Drive Northwest, Suite A. To schedule an appointment with her, call (616)-267-8225.
Read more stories like this on Dr. Bitner's Blog.