January is Thyroid Awareness Month
Like a lot of glands in the body it’s one you only think about when it’s not working right. Whether it is overworking or underworking this gland produces a hormone that affects the way the body works.
What is a thyroid and what does it do?
The thyroid is a small gland located in the neck that has tremendous influence on the body via a hormone that sends messages to different parts of the body. Thyroid hormone is important because it influences almost every cell in the body. Too much thyroid hormone and it can increase cell activity and increase metabolism. Too little thyroid hormone and it can slow down cell activity and decrease metabolism.
What are some of the reasons to consider a thyroid evaluation?
There are a large number of reasons (including symptoms of thyroid dysfunction) for having a thyroid evaluation. This can be discussed with your doctor at the time of your physical evaluation. Below are some of the common reasons for a person who doesn’t have symptoms of thyroid problems to have their thyroid evaluated.
• Family history: A familiar place to look for thyroid disorder signs and symptoms is your family tree. If you have a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling or child) with thyroid disease, you would benefit from thyroid evaluation. Women are much more likely to be thyroid patients than men; however, the gene pool runs through both.
• Prescription medications: If you are taking Lithium or Amiodarone, you should consider a thyroid evaluation.
• Radiation therapy to the head or neck: If you have had any of the following radiation therapies, you should consider a thyroid evaluation: radiation therapy for tonsils, radiation therapy for an enlarged thymus, or radiation therapy for acne.
• Chernobyl: If you lived near Chernobyl at the time of the 1986 nuclear accident, you should consider a thyroid evaluation.
Taken from http://www.thyroidawareness.com
How do you evaluate the thyroid?
A thyroid evaluation is performed by your doctor. Usually it is performed by your primary or family doctor, but any physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant is trained to evaluate your thyroid.
The physical examination is depicted below. The physician or physician extender feels for the overall size of the gland, but also feels for any nodules or firm spots in the thyroid.
Image taken from http://www.kumc.edu/school-of-medicine/internal-medicine/endocrinology/patient-education/the-thyroid-gland.html
While the physical exam can determine if further imaging studies are needed, only a lab test can tell if the thyroid is functioning properly. The test to determine thyroid function is a measurement of a chemical called thyroid stimulating hormone also commonly called “TSH”. If the TSH is low this indicates that there is too much thyroid hormone circulating in the body. If the TSH is high this indicates that there is too little thyroid hormone in the body.
What happens next depends on if you have too much or too little thyroid hormone.
Too much thyroid hormone.
If you have too much thyroid hormone then the doctor has to find out the reason why. There are inflammatory conditions that can release too much thyroid hormone, but then the thyroid heals itself and no other treatment is necessary. Most cases however require certain medications to limit the ability of the thyroid to produce thyroid hormone. This will require regular blood test to make sure that you are taking the right amount of medication. If the medication doesn’t work then sometimes part of the thyroid has to be eliminated. This elimination is called ablation and will usually require you to take pills to replace the hormone that was previously made by the thyroid.
Too little thyroid hormone.
You have too little thyroid hormone the doctor may have to find out why. With the exception of iodine deficiency, which is relatively rare in the United States other forms of hypothyroidism will require thyroid hormone replacement. It is important that you take your medication on a regular basis and have regular lab checks to evaluate the effectiveness of your thyroid hormone replacement pills.
Goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland associated with a dysfunction of the thyroid. 90% of the cases of goiter worldwide are associated with iodine deficiency. To prevent this condition salt in the US has iodine added. Iodine deficiency is relatively uncommon cause of goiter in the developed world because of the supplementation of iodine in the salt.
Image taken from http://www.drthindhomeopathy.com/diseases/goiter/
Your overall health depends on all of your organs and glands working properly to provide the body with the support it needs to function properly. The thyroid is a very important gland that communicates with the rest of the body to help regulate important functions such as metabolism. This is a brief introduction to an important gland that affects the entire body. Be sure to ask your physician or health care provider about your thyroid health and ask if it is appropriate to have your thyroid evaluated.
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