Learn How a Thyroid Screening Can Save Your Life
January is Thyroid Awareness Month, and for good reason. An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid disease, and up to 60 percent are unaware of their condition. Women in particular are at risk for thyroid disease, and are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems. By understanding the symptoms and warning signs of thyroid diseases, including thyroid cancer, and committing to regular check-ups, you can reduce your risk of developing a serious health condition.
The Thyroid’s Role in Regulating Your Metabolism.
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in your neck just above your collarbone. It produces hormones that help your body regulate your metabolism. When not functioning properly, it can cause your system to accelerate, a condition known as hyperthyroidism, or decelerate, a condition known as hypothyroidism. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include rapid weight loss, high blood pressure, anxiety and insomnia. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include a weak or slow heartbeat, muscular weakness, constant fatigue, weight gain, depression, slow reflexes, sensitivity to cold, puffy skin, slowed mental processes and poor memory, and constipation.
Other thyroid diseases may include:
- Thyroid nodules – lumps in the thyroid gland
- Thyroiditis – swelling of the thyroid
- Goiter – an enlargement of the thyroid gland often causing difficulty swallowing or breathing
Thyroid cancer is the fifth most common form of cancer in women. Women are at a greater risk for developing thyroid cancer if they:
- Are between ages 25 and 65
- Are Asian
- Have a family member who has had thyroid disease
- Have had radiation treatments to their head or neck
You should see a doctor if you have a lump or swelling in your neck. To test for Thyroid cancer your doctor will likely perform a physical exam, blood tests, imaging tests, and a biopsy. Treatment options depend on the type of thyroid cancer you have and how it has developed. Treatment may include surgery, radioactive iodine, hormone treatment, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or targeted therapy.
The Benefits of Self-exams.
Examining your neck on a regular basis may help you identify lumps or enlargements that are indicative of thyroid disease. To perform a self-exam:
- Use a mirror to study the lower middle area of your neck, above the collarbones, and below the larynx.
- Tip your head back, take a drink of water, and swallow.
- Look at your neck and check for any bulges near your collarbone.
If you do see a protrusion in the area of your thyroid, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
The Benefits of Screenings.
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) testing is a simple blood test that measures whether your thyroid gland is functioning normally. Ask your doctor about a TSH test if you:
- Are over 60 years of age
- Have recently been pregnant or have delivered a baby within the last six months
- Have a family history of thyroid disease
- Have previously been treated for a thyroid problem
- Have had neck surgery or radiation
- Have pernicious anemia (a vitamin B12 deficiency)
- Have type 1 diabetes
- Have primary adrenal insufficiency
According to The American Thyroid Association, thyroid function should be measured in all adults beginning at age 35 and every five years thereafter. Women taking synthetic thyroid hormone replacements should have a TSH blood test at least once per year. Women with a history of thyroid problems who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should discuss more frequent testing with their doctors.