For such a little gland, the thyroid sure causes some big problems.
January is Thyroid Awareness Month, the perfect time to talk about this potentially pesky, butterfly-shaped organ wrapped around the windpipe. The thyroid makes and releases hormones that keep your body humming along normally – metabolism control, for instance, is among its main jobs. When something is askew, it can release too many or too few of these hormones.
That can create havoc.
“Thyroid issues can put patients at risk for a broad range of conditions that can span everything from weight variation and exhaustion to cardiovascular problems, osteoporosis, even infertility,” said Dr. Jennifer Chambers, chief medical officer at Capital Blue Cross. “The good news is that most thyroid issues – while they’re usually life-long conditions – can be successfully managed through proper treatment, often including medication.”
The key, Dr. Chambers said, is getting to your doctor for the right tests that lead to the right diagnoses, which then ripple to the right treatments and medications.
Trouble is, roughly 12 million of the 20 million Americans with thyroid conditions don’t even know them have them, according to the American Thyroid Association (ATA). The ATA also reports that 10% of Americans will develop thyroid issues in their lifetimes, and that they’re far more prevalent – by a factor of 5 to 8 times – in women than men.
Two Main Types
While there are various subtypes of thyroid disease across a broad spectrum, there are two primary types: hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid makes too much of its hormone, causing the body to burn energy more quickly than it should. This can exhaust you, accelerate your heartbeat, cause unintended or unwanted weight loss, and even spike nervousness.
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid produces too little of its hormone. This also makes you tired, but may lead to weight gain and an intolerance for colder temperatures.
A wide variety of other symptoms specific to a particular thyroid condition also can signal thyroid disease, and these issues can affect anyone, though they’re more likely to afflict women, people with family histories of thyroid problems, those with certain conditions such as Type 1 diabetes, those on medication high in iodine, and people over 60.
How to help
You can cope with and catch thyroid issues by educating yourself about the many signals and perils of the problems, and through proper screenings and exams.
While thyroid diseases can sometimes be difficult to diagnose because they mirror other conditions, blood tests, imaging tests, and regular physicals can lead doctors to accurate conclusions. Of course, having health insurance that helps cover screenings and prescribed medications obviously goes a long way toward helping you contain any thyroid issues.
Capital Blue Cross offers many employer group and individual benefits that may cover a variety of thyroid screenings, treatments, and medications when medically necessary.
“So if you’re suffering from one or more thyroid-condition symptoms, see your doctor,” Dr. Chambers said. “Many times, the right medical recommendations or prescriptions can keep thyroid conditions in check, and keep them from impacting your quality of life.”