If our thyroid gland plays a major role in regulating our body’s metabolism, growth, and development, how is it possible that 60% Americans who have a thyroid disease don’t know they have it?

The easy answer is many of the 20 million cases in the U.S. have mild symptoms like fatigue, depression, weight gain, or weight loss, which can be mistaken for other conditions. Another reason is thyroid problems tend to go undiscussed in our schools,
and the media because they do not affect as many people as heart disease, or kill as many people as cancer. That is why Family HealthCare Associates wants to take time during “Thyroid Awareness Month” to educate our patients, while inspiring anyone who may have symptoms to get checked out by one of our physicians.

What Does Our Thyroid Gland Do?

Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped hormone-producing gland located at the base of your lower neck. If your thyroid is not putting the right amount of hormones into your bloodstream, you may develop a condition like hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, or even thyroid cancer.

Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder, which occurs when you don’t have enough thyroid hormone in your bloodstream, giving you a sluggish metabolism. Nearly 5 out of every 100 Americans (12 or older) have underactive thyroids. Most cases are mild with symptoms like fatigue, depression, forgetfulness, weight gain, swollen face, joint swelling, irregular menstrual periods, and a slow heart rate.

Women are more likely to develop hypothyroidism than men. If a woman has it during pregnancy, their body can’t make enough thyroid hormone for the fetus to grow, so they will need to take thyroid medication to ensure the fetus develops properly.

Hyperthyroidism is just the opposite of hypothyroidism.

It’s when your thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormones, which results in an overactive metabolism. Because hyperthyroidism can mimic other health problems, it can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms include irritability, nervousness, rapid heartbeat, muscle weakness, unexplained weight loss, and vision problems. Several treatments are available, like anti-thyroid medications and radioactive iodine to slow the production of hormones, while other treatments may include thyroid gland removal.

Keeping Your Thyroid Gland Healthy

Though thyroid conditions never go away, there are several things you can do to live a healthy life.

  1. Increase your Iodine Intake – The thyroid needs iodine to produce several of its hormones, so use iodized salt in your diet to compensate for any deficiency.
  2. Take Antioxidants – The thyroid is vulnerable to oxidative stress, so eat plenty of antioxidants like raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and colorful vegetables.
  3. Avoid Gluten – There’s strong evidence autoimmune thyroid disorders are caused by gluten allergies, so limit gluten as much as possible.
  4. Eat Nuts, Fish, Garlic Onions and Seafood – All have a high concentration of Selenium, which is needed to convert T4 hormones into T3 hormones.
  5. Avoid Fasting and Get Your Sleep – Be sure to regularly eat nutrient-dense foods, and get a healthy amount of sleep for keeping your thyroid healthy

If you are concerned you may have a thyroid condition, you can perform a self-check. First, stand in front of a mirror, tilt your head, and sip water. Observe the area below your Adam’s apple. If you see excessive bulging, nodules, or enlarged glands, contact your physician. And make sure to stay calm, a lump in your thyroid gland does not mean you have cancer, as only 5% of lumps are cancerous.

If you feel you have symptoms, the only way to be sure is to make an appointment with one of our physicians at Family Healthcare Associates to measure your thyroid hormone levels. They may recommend a “Thyroid Stimulating Hormone” test, which will help them diagnose your disorder, and prescribe treatment.

Keep in mind, thyroid conditions are treatable if caught early, but can become serious if left untreated, so don’t wait another day.