Did you know more than 30 million Americans have thyroid disorders, yet more than half remain undiagnosed and untreated? Surprising to many, thyroid disease is more common than diabetes and heart disease. Thyroid disease is even more common than breast cancer. In fact, more Americans suffer from thyroid disease than all types of cancers combined. But what exactly is thyroid disease?
The thyroid is a small gland located in the base of the neck. It is shaped like a butterfly and produces thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones are very important because they influence how all other bodily cells, tissues and organs function. For instance, your heart, brain, liver and kidney all depend on the correct amount of thyroid hormone to do their jobs properly.
Thyroid dysfunction occurs when the thyroid produces either too much or too little thyroid hormone. This is a problem because it disrupts so many other functions in your body. If your thyroid is making too much hormone, the condition is called hyperthyroidism. Or, if it is producing too little hormone, you have hypothyroidism. Also, the thyroid can develop lumps called nodules. They’re usually not cancerous, but in some cases may be.
Knowing when your thyroid isn’t working properly may be difficult, which is one of the reasons so many cases remain undiagnosed. There are over 300 symptoms that indicate thyroid dysfunction, the most common ones being:
- Cold hands/feet (hypothyroidism)
- Dry skin (hypothyroidism)
- Unexplained weight gain (hypothyroidism)
- Unexplained weight loss (hyperthyroidism)
- Loose bowels/diarrhea (hyperthyroidism)
- Vision Issues (Graves’ disease)
- Difficulty swallowing (goiter/thyroid nodules)
Thyroid disease can affect anyone, but women are five times more likely than men to suffer, and risk increases with age.
The good news is that once a thyroid condition is identified it can be successfully treated. With proper treatment one can resume a healthy lifestyle without restrictions. Increasing awareness and understanding of thyroid dysfunction and its symptoms is the first step to being diagnosed.