Are You One of the Unsuspecting 15 Million Americans?
Its dysfunction can wreak havoc on the body and mind, with symptoms ranging from fatigue, depression, anxiety and weight change to infertility, hair loss, high cholesterol and an accelerated heart rate.
In response to this medical conundrum, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) is pulling out all of the stops during January’s Thyroid Awareness Month to educate the general populace about the thyroid gland’s function, diseases and conditions, symptoms and proper treatment.And yet, an estimated 15 million people in this country alone are suffering from some type of thyroid disorder that has yet to be properly diagnosed. An additional 15 million have been diagnosed and treated.
“It’s staggering to think about how many people are suffering from an undiagnosed thyroid disease or disorder and yet are unaware of the actual cause for their symptoms and complaints,” says Alan J. Garber, MD, PhD, FAC, a practicing endocrinologist and president of AACE. “We’ve made it our mission to reach as many people as possible to educate them about the thyroid in the hopes that we can positively impact the lives of those who are currently suffering unnecessarily.”
A small, butterfly-shaped gland located centrally at the base of the neck, in front of the trachea (windpipe) and below the larynx (voice box), the thyroid gland packs a powerful punch: the two thyroid hormones it produces, T3 and T4, travel through the blood to the body’s tissues, influencing the function of virtually every cell in the body. Thyroid hormones help the body make energy, keep body temperature regulated and assist other organs in their function.
Common thyroid conditions include hyperthyroidism, which develops when the body is exposed to excessive amounts of thyroid hormone; hypothyroidism, which occurs when the thyroid gland produces less than the normal amount of thyroid hormone; Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is characterized by the body’s own immune system producing immune cells and autoantibodies that damage thyroid cells and compromise their ability to make thyroid hormone; goiter, a visible enlargement of the thyroid gland; and thyroid nodules, which can be caused by an overgrowth of normal tissue, fluid-filled cysts, inflammation or a tumor.
Treatment for most thyroid conditions involves trying to reset your body's metabolism to a normal rate…once a definitive diagnosis has been reached.
“The reality is that despite thyroid disease being so common, it can be among the most challenging, and perplexing, conditions for many health care professionals to diagnose and treat,” notes Dr. Garber. “Thyroid function is not checked by routine blood work performed during an annual physical and many doctors don’t necessarily recognize symptoms as thyroid-related at first pass or make the connections.
“To that end, we are encouraging consumers to become active participants in protecting their well-being by becoming educated about the thyroid with a visit to AACE’s robust website, thyroidawareness.com,” notes Dr. Garber.
The site offers in-depth content about thyroid disease risk factors, typical symptoms and treatment options. Downloadable PDFs about the varied thyroid conditions are available, as well as Neck Check Cards detailing how to perform a self-exam to detect a thyroid abnormality. And, for those who suspect they may be suffering from a thyroid condition, the website features an interactive “find an endocrinologist” function to assist in locating a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disorders.
"As endocrine experts, our ultimate goal is to ensure that those with thyroid disease receive the treatment they deserve, and public education plays a significant role in that effort,” says Dr. Garber.