SALT LAKE CITY - Did you know that hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid is as common in women as breast cancer? Many don't realize they have the condition because the symptoms of hypothyroidism can be subtle or attributed to aging. But left untreated, hypothyroidism can be serious and lead to other health problems.
Kelsey DeSalvo, MD an endocrinologist at Intermountain Salt Lake Clinic explains that, “The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the lower front of the neck. It’s job is to make thyroid hormones and carry them throughout the body. Thyroid hormones help the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain and heart and other organs and muscles functioning."
The most common thyroid problem is hypothyroidism, which means your thyroid is under active and doesn’t produce enough hormones.
Women are far more likely to have hypothyroidism than men. In fact, one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime. Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems.
“Hypothyroidism is about as common as breast cancer, but we don’t hear a lot about it because it can be harder to recognize. We also don’t know why women are more affected than men,” says DeSalvo.
Women who are middle aged or older are more likely to have hypothyroidism. Between ages 35 to 65, about 13 percent of women will have an underactive thyroid, and the proportion rises to 20 percent among those over 65.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism are common in aging and in other diseases or disorders, so they can be difficult to recognize. These symptoms include:
• Extreme fatigue
• Cold intolerance
• Appetite loss or weight gain
• Cardiovascular symptoms like high blood pressure or cholesterol, specifically high LDL
• Mental effects similar to depression: difficulty concentrating, memory problems, loss of interest in things you enjoy
• Dry skin, brittle nails
• Hair may thin or become coarse or brittle. Loss of eyebrow hair on the side close to ears
• Changes in menstrual periods (bleeding may be heavier, more frequent or may stop)
• Muscle aches and joint pain
• Slow speech, movement or balance problems in severe cases.
You should have your thyroid checked if you’re having any of the above symptoms, are pregnant, have just had a baby, or are over the age of 50. These are times when hormones are changing. Primary care physicians, obstetrician/gynecologists, or even dentists can do an initial thyroid check or test, but an endocrinologist specializes in gland and hormone issues and the delicate matter of prescribing the right amount of thyroid medication. Hypothyroidism is typically treated with levothyroxine, which works very well and has virtually no side effects.
“Pregnant women with undiagnosed or inadequately treated hypothyroidism have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, and severe developmental problems in their children,” says DeSalvo.
Hypothyroidism can also lead to an enlarged thyroid gland or goiter on your neck, or the development of smaller thyroid nodules which can become problematic or cancerous.
“Some people can feel thyroid nodules or see them in the mirror. They typically range from one to six centimeters in size. Thyroid nodules can interfere with swallowing or cause voice changes. The treatment is to remove them if they’re causing problems or if they’re cancerous,” says DeSalvo.
Undiagnosed thyroid disease may put patients at risk for certain serious conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis. DeSalvo says extreme hypothyroidism can put you into a coma or even lead to death.
Despite the myths you may find online, there is very little you can do to prevent thyroid issues. Consuming too little or too much iodine can potentially lead to thyroid problems. In the United States, iodine is added to salt, but sea salt and Kosher salt don’t have iodine. Iodine also occurs naturally in some foods. T
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