January is Thyroid Awareness Month, an important month for raising awareness about the thyroid and potential related issues that affect millions of Americans.

According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, and up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition. That’s what makes thyroid education so important – so that patients and healthcare providers can work together to diagnose and manage cases sooner and more efficiently.

What is the Thyroid Gland?

Thyroid glandThe thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is located at the lower front of the neck. Its job is to make hormones that are released into the blood and carried to every tissue in the body. Thyroid hormones help the body use energy (influence metabolism), stay warm, and keep the brain, heart, stomach, muscles and other organs working as they should.

What Are the Types of Thyroid Diseases?

There are various things that can go wrong with the thyroid, but these are the most common:

  • Hyperthyroidism – The thyroid gland is overactive, meaning too much of the thyroid hormone is being produced. Symptoms can include nervousness, irritability, anxiety, trouble sleeping, a racing heart, skin-thinning, brittle hair, muscle weakness and weight-loss.
  • Hypothyroidism – The thyroid gland is underactive, meaning it can’t make enough of the thyroid hormone to keep the body running normally. Symptoms can include feeling colder, fatigue, dryer skin, forgetfulness, feelings of depression, constipation and weight gain.
  • Growths – These can include benign cysts, nodules or cancers of the thyroid gland.

Hypothyroidism and Weight Gain

One function of the thyroid hormone is to regulate metabolism, so patients with an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) may experience a slowed metabolism that results in some weight gain. However, these changes are usually far less dramatic than changes in weight that are due to an underactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). Most of the extra weight gained in individuals with hypothyroidism is due to excess salt and water, and massive weight gain is pretty rare.

In general, 5-10 pounds of extra weight may be attributed to the thyroid, depending on the severity of the hypothyroidism. More severe cases may indicate the presence of Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune disorder involving chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland.

Getting Your Thyroid Checked for Issues

Getting Your Thyroid Checked for IssuesIf you have experienced changes in weight combined with any of the symptoms listed above, it is a good idea to visit your healthcare provider and get your thyroid levels checked by doing your annual labs. This is especially true if you are a female and know that you have diabetes or insulin resistance, as these factors can put you more at risk for thyroid issues.

The most common blood tests used to check for thyroid issues include TSH tests, T3 and T4 tests, and thyroid antibody tests. Other tests may include a thyroid ultrasound or a radioactive iodine uptake test. For more information about getting tested for thyroid issues, click here.

If you have been diagnosed with a thyroid issue, your HCP should discuss potential treatment options and possibly refer you to an endocrinologist for further testing and disease management.

Additional Resources:

You can also check out the article “The Role of Your Thyroid in Metabolism and Weight Control” from a past issue of OAC’s Weight Matters Magazine.