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Thyroid Awareness: Dr. Val Tells ABC News To Check Their Necks

January is thyroid disease awareness month, and I was invited to educate the good people at Let’s Talk Live about this often-forgotten little gland. For this segment, I used Twitter to poll my friends about interesting thyroid factoids. Thanks to Nick Genes @blogborygmi who reminded me of the connection between carpal tunnel syndrome and hypothyroidism and to Meredith Gould @meredithgould who mentioned that depression sometimes has a thyroid-related cause.

For more information on the thyroid gland -- and all the things that can go wrong with it -- I highly recommend MayoClinic.com’s overviews here.

Physicians and healthcare professionals might enjoy my recent interview with endocrinologist, Dr. Victor Bernet.

Here are my notes from the ABC News segment:

What IS the thyroid gland?

The thyroid gland is located in the neck, just below the Adam’s apple. It turns iodine into hormones that regulate our metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and weight. When the gland is overactive (hyperthyroid), it causes irregular heart beats, nervousness, heat sensitivity, sweating, and weight loss. When the gland is underactive (hypothyroidism) it causes the opposite -- fatigue, weight gain, depression, brittle nails/hair, muscle weakness, joint pain, and constipation.

What causes thyroid disease?

Often, we don’t really know why some glands don’t make enough hormone. In other cases, cysts, autoimmune disease (Oprah has this), or cancer (rare) can affect it. It’s more common in women and those over 50.

Check Your Neck

Although ~50% of people develop a thyroid nodule at some point in their lives, only 8% that have a nodule can detect it. A small number of nodules are cancerous -- 5% -- so it’s important to alert your doctor if you find a lump. Red flags for cancer are: a hoarse voice, a hard lump that’s fixed and doesn’t move, enlarged lymph glands in the neck, difficulty swallowing, pain. You can check your thyroid gland by placing your finger tips on either side of your Adam’s apple and then swallowing. A thyroid nodule moves up and down when you swallow.

How do I know if I have thyroid disease?

You’re more likely to have symptoms than you are to find a lump. Symptoms can be tricky because they’re “vague” or weird -- who isn’t fatigued, overweight, and suffering from dry skin? Carpal tunnel syndrome! Hair loss. But if these symptoms of underactive or overactive thyroid persist, your doctor can order a simple blood test to see if your thyroid hormone levels are abnormal.

What if it’s cancer?

Thyroid cancer is very rare -- only about 37,000 cases per year in the US, and it’s very treatable. Survival rates of more than 10 years are the norm. But as with all cancers, the earlier you catch it, the better it is. So please see your doctor if you’re having symptoms of low or high thyroid hormone.


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2 Responses to “Thyroid Awareness: Dr. Val Tells ABC News To Check Their Necks”

  1. I just wanted to mention that as I dermatologist I see hair loss as a presenting sign of hypothroidism. Patients are very relieved when we make the diagnosis and I send them off to the endocrinologist knowing that they will soon have a full head of hair again.

  2. You’re right, overall the symptoms of any type of thyroid disorder can seem common, but it’s a relatively simple matter to get TSH levels tested. A couple of these symptoms combined can be the the red flag to do just that… so thyroid awareness (as you’re doing) is a darn good thing.

    As an aside, I’ve often wondered if we have a thyroid disease “epidemic” occurring or is it just increased awareness? If we do have a major increase in these conditions, what the heck is causing them?

    -M

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