January is National Thyroid Awareness Month in the US; in this article we are going to discuss facts about the thyroid along with some common thyroid disorders and how to prevent and/or treat them.
What Is the Thyroid?
The thyroid, a small gland located near the base of the neck, plays an important role in regulating certain bodily activities and functions. This includes integral functions like breathing, muscle development, and weight control.
Some Common Thyroid Disorders
Affecting a little over 1 in 100 Americans, hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid is overactive, making more hormones than your body requires. These hormones dictate how your body consumes and exerts energy, affecting many bodily organs. Hyperthyroidism is sometimes caused by Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid gland.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can 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
In people over age 60, hyperthyroidism is sometimes mistaken for depression or dementia. Older adults may have different symptoms, such as loss of appetite or withdrawal from people, than younger adults with hyperthyroidism.
Also referred to as underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism is the opposite of hyperthyroidism and causes your thyroid to underproduce hormones vital to your health. This disorder affects nearly 5 out of 100 Americans, so it is much more prevalent than hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism may be caused by Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid gland in such a way that weakens its ability to produce hormones.
Hypothyroidism has many symptoms that can vary from person to person. Some common symptoms of hypothyroidism include
- weight gain
- a puffy face
- trouble tolerating cold
- joint and muscle pain
- dry skin
- dry, thinning hair
- decreased sweating
- heavy or irregular menstrual periods
- fertility problems
- slowed heart rate
Because hypothyroidism develops slowly, many people don’t notice symptoms of the disease for months or even years.
Primary hyperparathyroidism affects the parathyroid glands which are located on or close to the primary thyroid gland. Primary hyperparathyroidism is one of the most prevalent hormonal disorders in the United States, affecting around 100,000 people per year. This disorder causes the overproduction of parathyroid hormone (PTH) which can raise your blood calcium levels to dangerous levels.
Most people with primary hyperparathyroidism have no symptoms. When symptoms appear, they’re often mild and similar to those of many other disorders. Symptoms include
- muscle weakness
- aches and pains in bones and joints
People with more severe disease may have
- loss of appetite
- increased thirst and urination
Promoting a Healthy Thyroid
Although there are a variety of risk factors associated with thyroid disorders, there are some steps you can take to promote the healthy function of your thyroid. Some of the most effective ways pertain to nutritional intake. Foods such as macadamia nuts, baked fish, and yogurt have been proven to aid in improving overall thyroid health.