By Dr. ALESSIA ROEHNELT
For Montclair Local
Editor’s note: This series will be written by practitioners in Summit Medical Group (SMG) on
health-related topics. This one is by endocrinologist Dr. Alessia Roehnelt. When she is not with her patients, she enjoys cooking, staying active and spending time with her family.
Five Things You Should Know About Your Thyroid
If you have never had a problem with your thyroid, or know someone who has, you probably do not think twice about the tiny gland in your neck. But thyroid health is essential to our well-being and can dramatically impact how we feel on a daily basis. The American Thyroid Association estimates that up to 60 percent of people with thyroid disease have no idea something is wrong. Here is what you need to know about the hormone-producing gland that regulates our metabolism and impacts nearly every cell in the body.
- The small but mighty gland sets the body’s pace.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the lower neck just below the Adam’s apple. Even though the thyroid is only two-inches wide, it has several important roles in regulating both our mood and how the body functions. Like other glands in our body, the thyroid’s primary job is to make hormones. These “thyroid hormones” are used to regulate metabolism or more specifically how the body uses energy. Thyroid hormones have a direct impact on how fast or slow many parts of the body work. When there is too much thyroid hormone, or not enough, it affects how the heart beats, digestive system breaks down food, muscles work, and brain processes information.
- Thyroid disease is common.
An estimated 20 million Americans have some type of thyroid disease. It can occur at any age, and women are five to eight times more likely to develop the condition than men. The cause of thyroid disease varies. The most common cause is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells and causes the thyroid to become underactive. Less common causes of thyroid dysfunction include Graves’ disease, thyroid nodules, and thyroid cancer. Even certain viruses or medications can negatively impact thyroid function.
- The thyroid can be over or underactive.
When the thyroid is underactive, a condition known as hypothyroidism, it does not produce enough hormone. Conversely, if the thyroid is overactive, referred to as hyperthyroidism, it makes too much thyroid hormone. This imbalance can cause significant symptoms, including:
– Fatigue, depression, cold sensitivity, constipation, and unexplained weight gain
– Irritability, difficulty concentrating, heat intolerance, a fast heart rate, difficulty sleeping, shaky hands, and weight loss
- Treatment is very effective.
Once it is identified, thyroid dysregulation can be well managed. Medications are available to balance hormones with little side effects. They can also replace the thyroid function entirely if the thyroid has been surgically removed.
- Nodules are common and often benign.
Thyroid nodules are lumps that appear in the gland. They may be felt on a routine exam or found during a diagnostic test like an ultrasound. Nodules are found in up to 50 percent of adults over age 60. Most nodules are harmless, but some can be cancerous. Over the past few decades, the number of people diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the U.S. has tripled. Thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable types of cancer. Depending on the characteristics of nodules, your doctor may recommend routine monitoring.