What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped hormone gland that is located at the base of the throat, right below the Adam’s apple. While the thyroid gland is quite small, it is responsible for a laundry list of jobs within the body including energy production, temperature regulation, and helps to keep vital organs like the heart, lungs, brain, liver, kidneys, muscles, and skin working properly.
Thyroid Problems and Diseases
One in eight Americans will experience some level of thyroid disease in their lifetime, but up to 60% will be unaware of it. Additionally, females are up to eight times more likely than males to develop thyroid disease. Fatigue, sleeping too much or too little, weight gain or weight loss, and depression are common symptoms with thyroid disease, but these can often be confused with other medical conditions or the stresses of life. However, thyroid disease is simple to detect through blood testing, medical imaging, and a physical assessment, which can lead to earlier diagnosis, earlier intervention, and overall better outcomes for those suffering with thyroid disease.
What is Hypothyroidism?
When the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone, this is called hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, increased sensitivity to cold, a puffy face, hoarseness, muscle weakness, thinning hair, a slowed heart rate, depression, impaired memory, or an enlarged thyroid gland, also known as a goiter. Risk factors for hypothyroidism include being a female, being older than 60 years old, having a family history of thyroid disease, having been pregnant or delivered a baby in the past six months, having an autoimmune disease, having received radiation treatment to your neck or upper chest, and having had thyroid surgery.
What is Hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid is the opposite of hypothyroidism and occurs when the thyroid gland makes too much of the thyroid hormone. Unfortunately, the wide variety of symptoms that are common with hyperthyroidism can mimic other medical problems and may be difficult to properly diagnose. These symptoms include unintentional weight loss, rapid and/or irregular heart rate, palpitations, increased appetite, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, tremors, sweating, changes in menstrual pattern, increased sensitivity to heat, changes in bowel habits or more frequent bowel movements, fatigue, muscle weakness, difficulty sleeping, skin thinning, brittle hair, or a swelling at the base of the neck. Risk factors for hyperthyroidism include a family history of hyperthyroidism, being a female, and having a personal history of certain chronic illnesses.
Your Thyroid Health
January may be Thyroid Awareness Month, but ongoing awareness is needed year-round to promote early detection and early intervention. There are a few simple steps that you can take today to increase thyroid awareness and make thyroid health a priority in your personal health. One simple step is to perform a swallow test on yourself to monitor for thyroid gland or neck enlargement. It takes just a minute and should be performed regularly. Additionally, if you or a loved one are experiencing unexplained symptoms such as fatigue, depression, sleep disturbances, weight gain or weight loss, it is vital that you make an appointment with your health care provider to have your thyroid checked.
Article by Courtney Gormus, DNP, APRN, FNP-C
About Courtney Gormus, DNP, APRN, FNP-C
Dr. Courtney Gormus is an experienced Registered Nurse and Family Nurse Practitioner with a Doctorate in Nursing Practice from Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions in Provo, Utah. Her nursing background includes inpatient and outpatient oncology, hospice, palliative care, bone marrow transplant, telemedicine, and now nursing academia. Dr. Gormus’ current role is within the Roseman University College of Nursing as an assistant nursing professor teaching in the undergraduate nursing skills and simulation lab, along with teaching in the graduate MSN/Family Nurse Practitioner program. Dr. Gormus also works as a Nurse Practitioner in our community completing Human Health Risk Assessments on the Medicare population. Dr. Gormus is married with two beautiful boys. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to true crime podcasts, walks around the neighborhood with her family and 105-pound dog, baking, long strolls down the aisles of Target, and interior decorating.
Mayo Clinic. (2021). Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hyperthyroidism/symptoms-causes/syc-20373659
Mayo Clinic. (2021). Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothyroidism/symptoms-causes/syc-20350284
O’Day, S. (2021). Thyroid awareness: January and beyond. Retrieved from https://medicareguide.com/thyroid-awareness-january-and-beyond-285923