By now, most everyone is familiar with the infamous pink ribbon that symbolizes breast cancer awareness. But have you heard of the blue paisley ribbon? In 2012, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) initiated the light blue ribbon with a paisley pattern as the official symbol of thyroid awareness. January has been recognized as Thyroid Awareness Month for the past 23 years. The paisley pattern was chosen because it resembles a cross-section of thyroid follicles and is seen on scarves or ties, which are worn around the neck (where the thyroid is located). Thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer but also twice as common as breast cancer. An estimated 30 million Americans and 200 million people around the world suffer from some form of thyroid disorder and about half of those cases go untreated. Help spread the word about the importance of thyroid awareness and read on to find out how to perform a home self-check on your thyroid gland.
One of the reasons why awareness about the thyroid and associated disorders is so important is because thyroid function affects many crucial bodily functions including metabolism, digestion, cognitive function and the regulation of body temperature. When function is disrupted, the effects can be far-reaching. In fact, over 300 symptoms have been associated with thyroid dysfunction. A few of the most common symptoms reported are cold extremities, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, dry skin, and changes in mood or bowel habits. Disorders related to the thyroid include hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s, goiter, nodules and thyroid cancer.
Unfortunately, some of the information out there on thyroid disorders is incomplete, outdated, or flat-out inaccurate. One common misconception is that TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) is the best way to check thyroid function. In actuality, testing TSH levels checks the pituitary and its ability to pump out TSH, a substance that regulates the thyroid’s production of thyroid hormones. However, it fails to measure circulating levels of the thyroid hormones themselves, such as triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). It also does not detect problems with conversion of T4 to T3 (inactive to active thyroid hormone) or problems with the transportation of thyroid hormones from the blood into the cell, where they can be used. For a thorough evaluation of your thyroid, ask for a full thyroid panel, which should include the following tests:
- Free T3
- Free T4
- Reverse T3
- Anti-thyroid peroxidase
- Anti-thyroglobulin antibody
- Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG)
Clinical assessment of signs and symptoms, as well as reflex speed and basal metabolic rate can provide additional clues. A self-examination can be important in screening for thyroid nodules, goiter, and thyroid cancer. January is a good time to learn how to correctly perform this at home. With a glass of water nearby, stand in front of a mirror. Take a sip of water and tilt head back while swallowing. Watch and feel for any abnormalities in the thyroid area, located below the Adam’s apple and just above the collarbone. Repeat several times. If you feel or see anything suspicious, see your doctor as soon as possible to see if further testing is needed.
If you are experiencing vague, unexplainable symptoms or less-than-optimal health, chances are strong that your thyroid is involved in some way. Thyroid Awareness Month is a good time to find out how well your thyroid is functioning and to seek appropriate treatment so 2017 can be your best year yet. If you or a loved one has been affected by a thyroid condition, consider displaying a paisley blue ribbon in January and throughout the year. Help spread awareness about the importance of correct diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disorders and hopefully someday this symbol will become just as recognizable as the pink breast cancer ribbon.