Signs of Thyroid Problems

Signs of Thyroid Problems

Written by Megan Hammons

January is Thyroid Disease Awareness Month, so there’s no better time to learn more about this very important but little-known part of your body. The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of the neck, just below your Adam’s apple. Although relatively small, the thyroid gland influences the function of many of the body’s most important organs, and also:

  • Helps control body temperature

  • Increases heart rate and stimulates muscle contraction

  • Supports proper brain function

  • Manages body energy expenditure and weight

  • Regulates the function of the digestive tract

Unfortunately, because most of us know so little about the thyroid gland, we are often unaware of the signs that it could be in trouble. In fact, up to 50% of people with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition, even though more than 12% of the U.S. population will develop thyroid disease during their lifetime. Making it even more challenging for people over 60, thyroid disease can disguise itself as other diseases involving the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, or nervous systems. Low thyroid hormone level is common in seniors and can steadily increase with age – often as a result of iodine deficiency or as a side effect of other medications. In addition, thyroid disease does tend to run in families, and more often affects women than men.

There are many types of thyroid diseases – such as hyperthyroidism (producing too many thyroid hormones), hypothyroidism (not producing enough thyroid hormones), thyroiditis, and thyroid cancer – so it’s extremely important to ask your physician if you have any symptoms. Each disease has specific symptoms, but in general, it’s good to ask your doctor if you experience any of these:

  • Weight loss, despite increased appetite

  • Noticeable difference in heart rate

  • More frequent bowel movements, sometimes with diarrhea

  • Muscle weakness, trembling hands

  • Development of a goiter (an enlargement in your neck)

  • Lethargy, slower mental processes, or depression

  • Increased sensitivity to cold

  • Mild to severe pain in the thyroid gland, making it tender to the touch

  • Pain or discomfort when swallowing or turning your head

As an additional measure, you can take the simple 4-step “neck check” test from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American College of Endocrinology.

How to take the Neck Check (download a PDF of the Neck Check here):

  1. Hold a 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.

  2. While focusing on this area in the mirror, tip your head back. Take a drink of water and swallow.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 that should be checked to determine whether further evaluation is needed.

Because many symptoms of thyroid issues are hard to recognize or may mimic other conditions, you can ask your doctor for a TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) test, a simple blood test to measure how well your thyroid gland is functioning. As with any important body part, the more aware you are, the better your chances to catch and correct any problems, with the help of your doctor.

Megan Hammons lives in the Central Texas countryside just outside of Austin, pursuing her love for copywriting after a career in high-tech marketing. She is part of a large, diverse family and enjoys spending time with the multiple generations living in her community.

1 Comment

  1. manzarm April 10, 2015 Reply

    Thanks for sharing very useful information.

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