January is Thyroid Awareness Month

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Michael is one of those young men that you’d describe as a “big strapping lad.” He’s an athlete, he eats a good, balanced diet and he’s nice to his sister, who could ask for more? But, for several months, even in the summer time, he complained that he was freezing. And, sometimes he would complain that he was tired.

His parent’s didn’t think much about his occasional bouts with constipation any more than they worried about his fatigue and sensitivity to cold. They didn’t connect the dots that may have alerted them to a problem with Michael’s thyroid gland. It’s for people like Michael’s parents that Thyroid Awareness Month was conceived.

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ about two inches long located below your Adam’s apple at the front of your neck. It releases hormones that control metabolism, growth and development and body temperature. During infancy and childhood, adequate thyroid hormones are critical for brain development.

Thyroid hormones regulate vital body functions such as breathing, heart rate, central and peripheral nervous systems, body weight, muscle strength, menstrual cycles, body temperatures, cholesterol levels and various and sundry other things.

“The thyroid gland uses iodine from the foods you eat to make two main hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4),” explains Endro-crine web.com’s website. “It is important that T3 and T4 levels are neither too high nor too low. Two glands in the brain, the hypothalamus and the pituitary, communicate to maintain T3 and T4 balance.

“The hypothalamus produces TSH Releasing Hormone (TRH) that signals the pituitary to tell the thyroid gland to produce more or less of T3 and T4 by either increasing or decreasing the release of a hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).” Did you get that?

“If T3 and T4 levels are low, your heart rate may be slower than normal and you may have constipation/weight gain. If T3 and T4 levels are high, you may have a rapid heart rate and diarrhea/weight loss,” Endocrineweb says.

Michael was diagnosed with hypothyroidism which means that his body wasn’t producing enough hormones for his body’s needs. The National Institute for Health says that about 4.6 percent of the U.S. population ages 12 and older has some form of hypothyroidism, although most cases are mild.

Women are more likely than men to develop it, and it’s much more common among people over 60 years of age. You’re at risk if you’ve had a goiter (enlargement of the thyroid), have a family history of thyroid disease, have had surgery or radiation treatment, pernicious anemia, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and some other health problems.

Common symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, a puffy face, trouble tolerating cold, joint and muscle pain, constipation, dry skin, dry and thinning hair, decreased sweating, heavy or irregular menstrual periods, fertility problems, depression, slowed heart rate and goiter.

Hyperthyroidism (too much T3 and T4) isn’t as common. Only 1.2 percent of the people in the United States have it. But, left untreated it can cause serious problems with the heart, bones, muscles, menstrual cycle, and fertility. NIH says that women are two to ten times more likely than men to develop hyperthyroidism.

Common causes are similar to hypothyroidism in that a family history of thyroid disease is at the top of the list followed again by pernicious anemia and type 1 diabetes. Also on the list are primary adrenal insufficiency (a hormonal disorder), eating large amounts of iodine laden foods such as kelp, being a woman pregnant in the last six months or one who is over 60.

Symptoms will vary from person to person and may include nervousness or irritability, fatigue or muscle weakness, trouble tolerating heat, trouble sleeping, shaky hands, rapid and irregular heartbeat, frequent bowel movements or diarrhea, weight loss, mood swings and again, a goiter.

There are other diseases of the thyroid; this is just a brief description of two of them. Your healthcare professional will run tests to determine if your thyroid is working properly when you tell him or her about any of the aforementioned symptoms you may be experiencing.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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