13 Jan Thyroid Awareness Month: The Basics
January is Thyroid Awareness Month, and so we’re going to do our part and … wait for it … spread awareness about your thyroid!
This article will cover the basics of the thyroid:
- What is it?
- Where is it?
- What are some problems associated with the thyroid?
- And what are the symptoms related to those problems?
What is the thyroid?
Triiodothyronine touches upon almost every physiological process in your body.
Like triiodothyronine, thyroxine is primarily responsible for metabolism.
“Thyroid” is one of those body parts we’ve all heard about in one form or another—but where is it, and what does it do?
Located at the front of the base of your neck, the thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland.
But don’t let its petite size fool you: the thyroid controls some hugely vital processes in your body, specifically in the form of two hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). 1
With such crucial bodily functions at stake, the importance of the thyroid cannot be understated.
What are some problems with the thyroid?
- Goiter: an enlargement of the thyroid gland, either caused by simple swelling or irregular cell growth, that does not necessarily mean the thyroid is malfunctioning 4
- Hyperthyroidism: when your thyroid kicks into overdrive and creates more thyroid hormones than your body needs
- Hypothyroidism: the opposite of hyperthyroidism—this is when your thyroid gets lazy and doesn’t make enough of what your body needs
- Thyroid cancer
- Thyroid nodules: lumps in the thyroid gland 5
- Thyroiditis: swelling of the thyroid and an autoimmune disorder 6
Now that you know what can go wrong, let’s learn about how you can detect irregularities in your thyroid before anything serious happens.
What are symptoms of thyroid problems?
The symptoms of hypothyroidism pertain to most other issues with the thyroid, as they all center on the location of the thyroid. Here’s a selection of some of those symptoms: 10
- Increased sensitivity to cold*
- Dry skin*
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Aches, tenderness and stiffness in muscles and joints
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
* (Keep in mind that some of these symptoms can be related to the cold winter weather—so be careful not to “WebMD yourself” into an inaccurate self-diagnosis!)
The American Association of Clinical Endocrinology (AACE) has a helpful video and instructions on how to check your thyroid at home. From the AACE website: 11
What you’ll need
- Handheld mirror
- Glass of water
What to do
- Hold the mirror in your hand, focusing on the lower front area of your neck, above the collarbones, and below the voice box (larynx). Your thyroid gland is located in this area of your neck.
- While focusing on this area in the mirror, tip your head back.
- Take a drink of water and swallow.
- As you swallow, look at your neck. Check for any bulges or protrusions in this area when you swallow.
- Reminder: Don’t confuse the Adam’s apple with the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located further down on your neck, closer to the collarbone. You may want to repeat this process several times.
- If you do see any bulges or protrusions in this area, see your physician. You may have an enlarged thyroid gland or a thyroid nodule; these should be checked to determine whether cancer is present or if treatment for thyroid disease is needed.
Now how about the rest??
We’ve covered quite a bit in this introductory post. And to prevent information overload, we’ll have more data about thyroid problems next week, including a more in-depth look at symptoms, treatments, and prevention.