January: the beginning of a new year, the month everyone decides to go back to the gym or get in shape, the month for changes, the month for new beginnings. January is also the month that has been deemed Thyroid Awareness Month. This is the time when the thyroid gland gets some much needed coverage. Unfortunately, not everything circulating or being shared out there in the cyber universe is correct so we will use this time, in honor of Thyroid Awareness Month, to share some information regarding the little gland.
The thyroid is a small gland located in the base of your neck that is part of the endocrine system. This tiny gland has a big job and nobody disputes that! The gland is responsible for various functions including the metabolism, regulating body temperature, cognitive function, digestion, and much more. To make it easy, the thyroid affects the entire body and when it is not working properly you will definitely feel the effects.
Many people are somewhat familiar with the condition known as hypothyroidism; this typically describes the condition where the thyroid gland is in a sub-optimal state and is not producing enough of the thyroid hormones necessary for the body to function, but hypothyroidism is also linked to thyroid conversion issues (the inactive form, T4, is not converting to the active form, T3) and transport issues. While this condition counts for many people that are suffering from thyroid dysfunction, there are various other conditions, as well. These conditions include hyperthyroidism (thyroid gland in an over-active state), Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s disease (autoimmune diseases), goiter (thyroid enlargement), thyroid nodules (growths on the thyroid gland that can be caused by another condition, i.e. Hashimoto’s), and thyroid cancer.
The symptoms of course vary depending on the condition, but there are many warning signs that something is not right. There are over 300 symptoms that indicate thyroid dysfunction, the most common ones being,
- Cold hands/feet (hypothyroidism)
- Dry skin (hypothyroidism)
- Unexplained weight gain (hypothyroidism)
- Unexplained weight loss (hyperthyroidism)
- Loose bowels/diarrhea (hyperthyroidism)
- Vision issues (Graves’ disease)
- Difficulty swallowing (goiter/thyroid nodules)
- And much, much more!
Finding the Problem
One misconception that continues to be held as fact about thyroid dysfunction is that the TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test is the best way to determine if an individual has a thyroid problem. This is far from true! The TSH test doesn’t even test the thyroid! Yes, you read that correctly! The test used to determine if an individual has a thyroid problem doesn’t even test the thyroid itself. Instead, the TSH test, checks the levels of the pituitary gland. The TSH is the hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland to tell the thyroid gland to create more or less hormones; however, this doesn’t tell us how much of the thyroid hormones are being produced, how many are being converted to the active form of thyroid (T3) versus the reverse (RT3), or if the hormones are even getting into the tissues.
The best way to find out if you have a thyroid problem is by having the following blood tests ran.
- Free T4
- Free T3
- RT3 (Reverse T3)
- Anti-thyroid peroxidase antibody (anti-tpo antibody)
- Antithyroglobulin antibody
- Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG)
These results combined with the measurement of your reflex speed, basal metabolic rate, and a clinical assessment can determine whether or not you have a thyroid issue.
Use this month to get your thyroid checked and share information regarding the tiny gland that has a huge job! Happy Thyroid Awareness Month!