Thyroid Awareness Month in January focuses attention on the thyroid gland, a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the base of your neck, and it has a big job to do! It makes thyroid hormones, which are chemicals that affect the function of many of the body’s organs–including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and skin as well as the metabolism and your energy level.
Did you ever wonder if you have a thyroid problem? Cold hands and feet, dry skin and unexplained weight gain are among the symptoms that can indicate something isn’t right. Women are 5 times more likely than men to suffer from hypothyroidism (when the gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone). And it’s more common in older adults.
“Thyroid issues are not always obvious,” said Dr. Randy Stein, Westmed endocrinologist, and they have so much impact on health. Hormone imbalances in the thyroid or other thyroid problems affect many functions of the body and may manifest themselves in conditions ranging from weight gain to depression to muscular weakness.
Hypothyroidism (when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone) and hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) are common thyroid disorders that can be accurately diagnosed with laboratory tests and are readily treatable.
“Many of the signs of hypothyroidism are nonspecific like fatigue, intolerance to cold and dry skin, especially in the elderly,” said Dr. Stein. Clues of hyperthyroidism may be “increased nervousness or palpitations or heat intolerance.”
Dr. Stein advised, “It’s important for people to discuss those symptoms with their primary care provider.”
Screening with the TSH Test
If you suspect you may have thyroid disease, the best way to find out is to schedule an appointment with your physician and have a blood test. When it comes to thyroid diagnosis, most doctors rely on the TSH (a thyroid-stimulating test), a simple blood test to verify your thyroid gland’s condition.
Screening everyone for thyroid disease is generally not recommended,” said Dr. Stein. “However, if you have signs or symptoms such as fatigue, excessive weight loss or weight gain, change in bowel habits, hair loss or certain changes in your blood work such low sodium, high cholesterol, the TSH is the first clue to whether these symptoms could be related to thyroid dysfunction.”
In addition, she continued, “in those with a goiter (enlargement of the thyroid), family history of thyroid disease, history of autoimmune diseases, certain diseases that place individuals at higher risk of thyroid disease such as Turners or Down’s syndrome, history of radiation to the neck, neck surgery, or those on drugs that can affect thyroid function, it is important to get screened.” A screening TSH is recommended during pregnancy. It is important to remember that the blood tests are sensitive, and if they are normal, your doctor may need to look for other causes for your symptoms.
If you have been diagnosed with thyroid disease, keep in mind it often runs in families. Examinations of your family members may reveal other individuals with thyroid problems, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinology.
You can reach Westmed’s endocrinologists as follows: Drs. Randy Stein and Zorayda Pretto at 210 Westchester Avenue, White Plains at (914) 831-4150; Dr. Kenneth Weiser at 210 Westchester Avenue and 1 Theall Road, Rye, at (914) 831-4150; Shelly Im at 3030 Westchester Avenue, Purchase, and Ridge Hill in Yonkers at (914) 831-4150; Lisa Markman at Ridge Hill, Yonkers, and at 171 Huguenot Street in New Rochelle at (914) 305-2720; and Pamela Randolph at 40 Cross Street in Norwalk at (203) 845-4800.