Submitted by Alicia DeRuscio, B.S.
Community Education Assistant
January is thyroid awareness month! You’ve probably heard of the thyroid gland before, but do you know what it does? According to National Institutes of Health, the thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that’s located in the base of the neck and produces thyroid hormone. While it is a relatively small gland, the thyroid plays a big role in how our bodies function.
For example, the thyroid gland regulates many of the organs within our bodies including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin, and affects things like our heart rate, digestion, breathing and body temperature. Therefore, to protect and maintain your body’s overall well-being, it’s important your thyroid gland works properly.
The American College of Endocrinology estimates roughly 30 million Americans are affected by thyroid disease, altering the function of their thyroid gland. The two most common conditions of thyroid disease include hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone and increases the activity of the body systems. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, symptoms of hyperthyroidism include weight loss, eating more than normal, increased heartbeat, irritability, problems sleeping, feelings of anxiety or nervousness, feeling warm more easily, increased sweating, muscle weakness and increased bowel movements or diarrhea.
While it is not the only cause, the most common cause of hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune disorder known as Grave’s disease. This disorder causes the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone than the body needs.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, slowing down the function of the body systems. The Department of Health and Human Services lists common symptoms of hypothyroidism as weight gain, feeling cold more easily, sweating less than normal, muscle weakness, muscle or joint pain, feeling sad, depressed or extremely tired, dry skin, thinning hair, a swollen face or hoarse voice and constipation.
Another autoimmune disorder, known as Hashimoto’s disease, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s disease causes your body’s immune system to attack the thyroid gland, causing swelling, scarring and decreased production of thyroid hormone.
While thyroid disease is common, it is often hard to identify. Unfortunately, many symptoms of thyroid disease mimic other chronic conditions. One indication of a thyroid disorder may be a thyroid nodule or goiter. A thyroid nodule is a swelling in one section of the thyroid gland while a goiter is an enlargement of the entire thyroid gland. Not all nodules cause problems, but some can.
If you have a family history of thyroid disease, swelling of the thyroid gland or experience symptoms of a thyroid disorder, talk with your healthcare provider. A simple blood test can determine whether or not your thyroid is doing its job.
For more information, contact your healthcare provider or call HealthLink Littauer at 518-736-1120. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our wellness center on 2 Colonial Court in downtown Johnstown. We’re your community health & wellness service of Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home.