January is Thyroid Awareness Month. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in the lower front of the neck. It produces thyroid hormones, which are released into the blood and distributed throughout the body.
Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism and maintain homeostasis. They help the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles and other organs working properly. However, when the thyroid is not functioning normally, it is classified as overactive or underactive.
With hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, the thyroid gland releases too much of the thyroid hormone and bodily functions speed up. Common hyperthyroidism symptoms include:
Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, can have the opposite effect and cause the body’s processes to start slowing down. This may cause symptoms such as:
According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, an estimated 27 million Americans have thyroid disease and about 13 million of them are undiagnosed. An overactive or underactive thyroid is sometimes difficult to diagnose, but weight loss or weight gain is one of the most noticeable symptoms.
Not all weight gain is due to a thyroid condition, but if you are experiencing unexplained weight gain, it may benefit you to visit your primary care physician and request lab work. A simple blood test called TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) can indicate whether your thyroid hormone levels are outside the normal range. Undiagnosed thyroid disease can cause significant disruptions in your everyday life, so talk to your doctor if you have questions.
Even if your TSH levels are normal, your doctor can assess your overall health to see if your symptoms may have another source. As we age, our metabolism naturally begins to slow down, so you may have to make some nutritional and exercise modifications to shed excess pounds. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for your overall health, and it helps prevent chronic conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. A higher body mass index puts you at risk for colon cancer and many other types of cancer including thyroid cancer.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have concerns about your weight or a possible thyroid condition. After a full examination, your physician can provide you with a detailed report on your health and direct you to the resources you need.