January: Thyroid Awareness Month
As small as the thyroid is, this gland plays an integral role in maintaining one’s overall health. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the thyroid’s function and, the consequences of hypo or hyperthyroidism.
What is the Thyroid Gland and What Does it Do?
Found within the endocrine system, the thyroid gland releases hormones that help regulate several of the body’s vital functions. These hormones help allocate the way a body uses energy, influencing not only the metabolism, but also the body’s temperature, heart rate, breathing, and more. Acting as a “conductor”, the thyroid is responsible for producing enough thyroid hormones, known as T3 and T4, to prompt the cells in the body to perform varied functions at a specific time and rate.
Balance is Key
T3 and T4 levels travel through the bloodstream and determine the speed at which the cells work. If these levels are imbalanced, the hypothalamus releases its own hormone signaling the pituitary gland to release a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), prompting the thyroid gland to produce more or less of either hormone. When the body fails to create a balance, two conditions can occur: Hyperthyroidism or Hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the body has excessive amounts of T3 and T4 hormones. An overactive thyroid can cause rapid heart rate, anxiety, irritability, hyperactivity, sensitivity to high temperatures as well as extreme hair and weight loss. It affects about 1% of the population and is more common among women, particularly those over 60 years old.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the body lacks sufficient amount of thyroid hormone, resulting in a slower metabolism. Symptoms include depression, memory loss, fatigue, weight gain, and dry skin. It affects about 12% of the population over their lifetime. Overall prevalence is 4.6%, with 10% of adults over 65, 14% of women over 45 and 4% of men over 60 years of age affected.
The Benefits of Early Detection
The American Thyroid Association (ATA) estimates that about 2-3 percent of the population in the United States have hypothyroidism and that up to 10-15% have mild hypothyroidism. More than 50% are unaware of their condition. The ATA stresses early screening for detection of thyroid imbalance.
The Accutest® TSH Test is an effective initial screen for hypothyroidism. The test is easy to use, CLIA-waived and provides results in 10 minutes or less.