June Is Thyroid Month
Eqra Jan and Michaela Karam (Get Well Clinic)
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck. The gland controls weight, body temperature, energy levels, skin, growth of hair and nails, and much more. Importantly, it produces hormones such as triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) which are responsible for regulating metabolism. Too much (hyper) or too little (hypo) of these hormones can lead to problems in the body’s metabolic processes (Cleveland Clinic, 2021).
Who is at risk for thyroid disease?
Anyone can be affected by thyroid diseases - all ages and all genders (although generally, women are more likely to suffer from thyroid disease than men). However, there are some groups that are at higher risk. If you have a family history of thyroid disease, have type I diabetes, take medication high in iodine, are above the age of 60, or have had treatment for a past thyroid condition, you are at a higher risk of developing a thyroid disease (Walfish, 2021).
Did you know...?
Approximately 1 in 10 Canadians will have thyroid disease at some point during their lifetime, yet only 50% will be diagnosed (Saigal, 2020). The good news is that all thyroid diseases are treatable. Be aware of bodily changes and do not ignore warning signs - it is better to be safe than sorry!
What are common thyroid diseases and their symptoms?
What is it and what causes it?
Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland produces too many hormones, causing energy to be used up too quickly. It can be caused by Grave’s disease, overactive nodules, thyroiditis, and excessive iodine levels (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021a).
Symptoms include fatigue, trouble sleeping, anxiety, irregular heartbeat, losing weight, heat sensitivity, irregular menstrual periods, muscle weakness, or an enlarged thyroid gland (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021a). Without proper treatment and management, a variety of complications may arise, including heart problems, brittle bones, vision problems, and red, swollen skin .
Treatments for hyperthyroidism include anti-thyroid medications and radioactive iodine (used to slow production of hormones), beta blockers (to ease symptoms), and surgery in extreme cases (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021a).
What is it and what causes it?
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones which can lead to a decrease in energy levels. It can be caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, removal of the thyroid gland, excessive iodine, or lithium (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021b; Ambardekar, 2019).
Symptoms include fatigue, gaining weight, cold sensitivity, forgetfulness, frequent and heavy menstrual periods, and dry skin. If left untreated, it can result in several health problems like obesity, infertility, joint pain, and heart disease. In rare cases, it can result in a possibly fatal myxedema coma (symptoms of this include feeling lethargic, confused, weak, and having difficulty breathing) (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021b; Felson, 2020).
Treatments for hypothyroidism include thyroid hormone medications (most commonly, the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine) to restore normal hormone levels. They also work to lower cholesterol levels and may reverse weight gain that was initially caused by hypothyroidism. If your hypothyroidism is subclinical, thyroid hormone therapy may not be for you (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021b). Discuss treatment options with your doctor.
How can I take better care of my thyroid?
Just like in the prevention and management of any other disease, a well-balanced diet is critical to both maintaining good thyroid health and managing a thyroid disease; however, there is no research-based evidence proving certain foods will improve thyroid health in individuals with hypothyroidism. In general, it is a good idea to try to avoid processed foods as they can potentially lead to intestinal inflammation and thus affect the autoimmune system. Iodine deficiency can also be problematic, but make sure to consult with your doctor before taking any iodine supplements as excess levels can also be problematic (Felton, 2020).
Thyroid diseases can absolutely be caught early with physical exams and blood tests after which your physician may recommend an ultrasound to further explore the issue. This is important, because as discussed, thyroid issues can be managed! The best practice for looking after your thyroid is to keep up with your regular check-ups and consult with your physician if you are experiencing any symptoms or have any concerns.
Ambardekar, N. (2019, July 24). Thyroid Problems. WebMD.
Cleveland Clinic. (2021). Thyroid Disease.
Felson, S. (2020, June 3). Myxedema Coma. WebMD.
Felton, K. (2020, September 16). 4 Steps you can take to avoid thyroid problems. Health.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021a). Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021b). Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Mayo Clinic.
Saigal, S. (2020). Prevalence of Thyroid Diseases in Canada: An Analysis. ThyForLife.
Walfish, B. (2021, April 29). What is hyperthyroidism? EndocrineWeb.