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Published July 19, 2012, 11:30 PM

Five Things Friday: 5 things to know about your thyroid

FARGO – Located low on the neck along the front of your windpipe is a steam engine. At least that’s how Dr. Julie Hallanger Johnson, an endocrinologist with Sanford health, describes the thyroid.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

Editor’s note: “5 Things Friday” is a weekly feature in SheSays that will run on – you guessed it – Fridays. It will focus on quick tips, ideas, activities and more – all in bunches of five. If you have a “5 Things Friday” suggestion, contact us at shesays@forum

comm.com.

FARGO – Located low on the neck along the front of your windpipe is a steam engine. At least that’s how Dr. Julie Hallanger Johnson, an endocrinologist with Sanford health, describes the thyroid.

This butterfly-shaped gland secretes hormones that influence metabolism, growth and development, and body temperature. Every cell on the body has thyroid hormone receptors.

“It keeps us going,” Hallanger Johnson says.

However, thyroid function issues are common. About 4½ to 5 percent of people will someday have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), and 1.3 percent of people will have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), says Hallanger Johnson. Many more will experience lumps and bumps inside the thyroid gland, she says, adding that the incidence of thyroid cancer is increasing, perhaps from environmental factors as well as better screening.

Here are five things to know about your thyroid.

  1. Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems, according to the American Thyroid Association. One woman in eight will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.

  2. Thyroid problems are being picked up more often and earlier than they used to. Part of this is due to more sensitive laboratory equipment, Hallanger Johnson says. More people are aware and asking questions about their thyroid, as well.

    Symptoms of an underactive thyroid include fatigue, constipation, dry skin and depression. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid include a racing heart, feeling anxious or jittery, and trouble sleeping.

  3. Thyroid issues can affect your heart and your fertility. In severe cases of hypothyroidism, the heart can become sluggish, causing a build-up of fluid. Severe hypothyroidism can also lead to the absence of a menstrual cycle. Hyperthyroidism can also affect the heart, causing irregular heart rhythms, and contributes to bone weakness as well as skin and eye changes.

  4. What’s considered a “normal” thyroid can vary depending on age, medical facility. This issue has gotten a lot of press, Hallanger Johnson says, and patients often ask if their TSH level may be considered normal in one laboratory but not another. She says some labs in the Twin Cities follow a narrower range.

    “I think it’s very important that we consider the age of the patient, where they are in plans for fertility, where they are in their symptoms, and consider everything together,” Hallanger Johnson says. “Typically we don’t always treat people when their thyroid levels are a little off unless there’s something else going on.”

    She notes one study shows it may be good for the elderly to have a slightly underactive thyroid.

  5. Your thyroid is not solely responsible for your weight problems. “I wish the obesity epidemic in the United States was related to thyroid issues because that would be an easy fix,” Hallanger Johnson says.

    “I think people worry a lot about weight, and the relationship with weight and the thyroid. That’s a big concern and question we have in our clinic,” she says. “It can contribute to weight problems, but there’s often a little more to the story, and that’s frustrating … for our patients.”

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