The vital importance of thyroid health.
Unless you’ve already been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, odds are that you never gave your thyroid a second thought today. But maybe you should, if only to appreciate the tremendous impact of this little, butterfly-shaped gland that sits near the base of your throat. That’s because the thyroid is essentially the control room for most of your vital organs — your brain, heart, liver, skin and kidneys.
The thyroid’s main job is to regulate every aspect of your metabolism, the way your body takes in calories from food and converts them to energy. But its importance extends to your overall health and wellbeing.
“Thyroid disease, while extremely treatable, is often under diagnosed. Over 3 million cases of new thyroid disease are seen yearly, and it is estimated that at least 50% more cases are missed yearly. The symptoms are often overlapping with other diseases,” St. Clair Hospital endocrinologist Wayne A. Evron, M.D. explains. “Symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, cold sensitivity, constipation, dry skin, and emotional instability are seen in many other disease states. Low thyroid disease is more common but overactive disease can also be seen and present as weight loss, palpitations, anxiety, tremors and visual disturbances. Thyroid disease is the most common autoimmune abnormality seen in both women and men, and the prevalence increases with age. Postpartum, menopause, and stress are often triggering factors. If you have any history in your family, or any of the above symptoms, please discuss with your physician to obtain simple blood tests which can easily diagnose thyroid problems.”
January is Thyroid Awareness Month, making this the perfect time to learn more about thyroid conditions and to talk to your doctor if you recognize any of the signs and symptoms.
If you’ve been losing weight without even trying, you may be experiencing an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). This condition, which affects over 4 million Americans, occurs when the gland produces an excess amount of thyroxine, which is the hormone responsible for metabolism. Other symptoms can include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Irregular heartbeat
- Pounding of the heart
- Nervousness, anxiety and irritability
- Tremors in the hands and fingers
- Menstrual cycle changes
- Increased heat sensitivity
- More frequent bowel movements
- Goiter (enlarged thyroid that may appear as swelling at the base of
- the neck)
- Fatigue and muscle weakness
- Trouble sleeping
- Skin thinning
- Fine, brittle hair
Hyperthyroidism can also lead to Graves’ disease — an uncommon problem that creates swelling in the tissues and muscles behind the eyes, leading to protruding eyeballs — which makes the eye protrude beyond their normal protective orbits. Fortunately, eye problems often improve without extra treatment.
As you’d expect, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) is the opposite of an overactive one— the gland produces an insufficient number of crucial hormones. About 15 million Americans suffer from underactive thyroid, which is characterized by symptoms including:
- Weight gain
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Swelling in the face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated cholesterol
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Joint pain, stiffness or swelling
- Heavier or irregular period
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
Thyroid cancer afflicts nearly 53,000 Americans every year, with three times as many women developing the disease as men. The cause is still unknown, and most cases can be cured with treatment. Early in the disease, thyroid cancer doesn’t have any signs, but as it progresses symptoms may emerge including:
- A lump on the neck that can be felt through the skin
- Hoarseness or other voice changes
- Trouble swallowing
- Neck and throat pain
- Swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the neck
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms associated with thyroid disorders, St. Clair Hospital is here to help. Our highly specialized services feature the most advanced imaging and treatment options, including nuclear medicine to detect problems early and less-invasive surgery that minimizes scarring. And our experienced specialists always provide the highest level of personalized, patient-centered care. To learn more or make an appointment, call 412.942.7295.
Wayne A. Evron, M.D., FAACE,
St. Clair Hospital
Dr. Evron specializes in endocrinology. He earned his medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania. He completed an internship at the University of Florida, as well as a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in endocrinology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Dr. Evron is board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. He practices with Evron Endocrinology Associates, a division of St. Clair Medical Services.
To contact Dr. Evron, please call 412.942.7295.