Is it Your Thyroid?

According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, at least 30 million Americans have a thyroid disorder and half – 15 million – are silent sufferers who are presently undiagnosed. The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck, is the master gland of metabolism. This small gland affects every aspect of your health and undiagnosed thyroid problems can increase the risk for heart disease, depression, anxiety, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, infertility, cause weight issues and a host of other health problems. According to the National Academy of Hypothyroidism, “The TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test, thought to be the gold standard in thyroid diagnosis and treatment, often leaves a patient untreated or undertreated. … Typically, a high TSH indicates too little thyroid hormone in the body, while a low TSH indicates too much. The key word here is ‘typically.’ But this isn’t always the case.” Thyroid physiology is complex. The production, conversion and uptake of thyroid hormone in the body is a multistep process. A malfunction in any of these steps can cause hypothyroid symptoms, but may not show up on standard lab tests. Additionally, there is disagreement as to the ‘reference range’ for the TSH test itself, and for over a decade, there has been disagreement over the guidelines. The two most common thyroid problems involve abnormal production of thyroid hormones. In very simplistic terms, hypothyroid, occurs when the body does not produce enough thyroxine, which can lead to fatigue, weight gain, sensitivity to cold temperatures, muscle weakness and depression. In contrast, hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid overproduces the hormone thyroxine, which subsequently may cause sudden weight loss, a rapid heartbeat, sweating and irritability. In addition, others thyroid disorders may include thyroid nodules and cancer of the thyroid gland. Because thyroid hormones affect many areas in the body, from brains to bowels, diagnosing a disorder can be challenging. If the diagnosis is not correct, the treatment will be ineffective – or even cause harm. When it comes to thyroid, each patient’s individual requirements for thyroid hormones and their reactions to imbalances are unique. For each individual, there is a range that is ideal for them. As such, it is important to fully investigate a patient’s medical history, symptoms, family history and do a complete and thorough physical exam. If thyroid problems are indicated, it is often necessary to do an extended thyroid panel. In other cases a thyroid scan or an ultrasound may be indicated. This seeming innocuous little gland located above the Adam’s apple can have a profound effect on your health and quality of life.