Compiled by Linda Tuccio-Koonz
Found in the front of the neck, the thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that's part of the endocrine system, which regulates hormones. It uses iodine to make hormones that control the body's heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and metabolism. Think of it as an internal thermostat. When it doesn't work right, you feel out of kilter.
-- When the gland over-produces hormones -- hyperthyroidism -- the body's systems speed up, causing symptoms such as nervousness, irritability, increased perspiration, insomnia, less frequent menstruation, hair and weight loss, loose stools, racing thoughts, depression and, sometimes, protruding eyeballs.
-- Under-production of hormones -- hypothyroidism -- causes the body's systems to slow down, with symptoms including include chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, inability to tolerate cold, easy weight gain, heavy periods, constipation, dry skin, slowed pulse, hair loss, depression and migraines. Another symptom of hypothyroidism is feeling sluggish, as if your brain is in a fog.
-- Most of us get iodine through the foods we eat -- fish (cod and tuna), seaweed, shrimp and other seafood, dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese) and products made from grains -- making the use of iodized salt unnecessary. Fruits and veggies also can contain iodine if they were grown in soil containing iodine.
-- A malfunctioning thyroid can be the underlying cause of many recurring illnesses. Thyroid function can be a factor in women with fibrocystic breasts. Iodine deficiency can cause an underactive thyroid and has been linked to fibrocystic changes.
-- An undiagnosed thyroid condition can be mistaken for menopausal symptoms. Fatigue, mood swings and depression often present in both circumstances, so if you have menopausal symptoms, you may want to have your thyroid function tested.
-- Thyroid cancer is one of the most curable types of cancer. Ninety percent of thyroid tumors are benign.
-- To keep your thyroid healthy, exercise and eat a balanced diet. Take a multivitamin and go for regular checkups.
-- Hypothyroidism can be treated with thyroid hormone replacement drugs. In some cases, surgery is required. Hypothyroidism is more common than its counterpart and most prevalent in women ages 30-50.
-- Medications can relieve hyperthyroidism. Dietary changes can help, too. Some patients go into remission permanently and others require further treatment, which can lead to hypothyroidism.
-- Factors that can increase risk of thyroid cancer include: radiation exposure, low-iodine diet, family history of thyroid cancer or colon growths, being female (women are three times more likely to develop this cancer than men, most often in their 40s and 50s).
-- Thyroid disease is tricky to diagnose. Its symptoms can be vague, and mimic those of menopause, pregnancy and chronic health disorders.
-- Thyroid cancer often has no noticeable symptoms. Swelling or small lump on front of neck is often the first sign. Other less common symptoms: hoarseness, trouble swallowing, persistently swollen glands, difficulty breathing, coughing and/or pain in throat or neck that won't go away.
-- Thyroid cancer treatment can involve surgery as well as radiation therapy.
-- The thyroid gets its name from the Greek word for shield.
-- Measuring levels of different hormones in the blood can determine if your thyroid gland is working properly.
-- You can test yourself for an underactive thyroid by taking under-arm temperature for 15 minutes first thing in the morning. Reading of 97.6 F or lower is an indicator. Keep a log for five days. If readings are consistently low, consult your doctor.