Thyroid Awareness

January is Thyroid Awareness Month
By Dr. Sean Hamlett
Published in Neosho Daily News
Monday, January 4, 2010

As many as 30 million Americans have thyroid disease, many of them undiagnosed. The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland located at the lower portion of the front of the neck, produces two thyroid hormones, known as T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine). A hormone is a chemical messenger secreted from a gland that tells the body what to do. Thyroid hormones are extremely important to the body’s overall function. They help regulate metabolism, help the body make energy, and perform many other important functions. Thyroid disease is quite common, and involves imbalances in the amount of thyroid hormone produced and structural thyroid abnormalities.

Thyroid hormone imbalance, either overproduction or underproduction of thyroid hormone, is more common in women than in men. Underproduction of thyroid hormone (known as hypothyroidism) is by far the most common thyroid hormone imbalance. It results in symptoms related to the slowing of metabolism such as fatigue, lethargy, weight gain, constipation, depression, feeling cold, dryness of the skin, brittle hair, and many others. Hypothyroidism can be treated with oral medication that replaces thyroid hormone. Overproduction of thyroid hormone (known as hyperthyroidism) is less common, but can be quite serious. Symptoms of overproduction, related to the speeding up of metabolism, include weight loss, increased frequency of stools, anxiety, feeling hot, tremors, and increased heart rate. Specific treatment of hyperthyroidism depends on the underlying cause. The first steps in detecting an imbalance of thyroid hormones are simple blood tests performed by your primary care doctor.

Structural abnormalities of the thyroid, such as thyroid nodules, are very prevalent. Thyroid nodules are lumps or growths in the thyroid gland. An estimated 50 percent of randomly selected individuals have thyroid nodules, with higher frequencies found in women and elderly persons. The clinical importance of thyroid nodules lies in the need to rule out thyroid cancer, which occurs in approximately five percent of thyroid nodules. However, the incidence of thyroid cancer is increasing. An estimated 37,000 people were diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2009. Thyroid nodules, discovered by physical examination of the thyroid gland, are also found by chance through imaging tests (CAT scans and ultrasounds) performed for unrelated reasons.

Thyroid disease is more common than diabetes or heart disease. If you are concerned that you may have thyroid disease, speak to your physician. Use January 2010 to raise your awareness of thyroid health.

About Sean Hamlett, DO, FACOI
Sean Hamlett, DO, FACOI, is board-certified and fellowship-trained in endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism. Dr. Hamlett, a fellow of the American College of Osteopathic Internists, practices at Freeman Health System in Joplin. For more information or an appointment, contact Dr. Hamlett’s office at 417.347.8740.