January is Thyroid Awareness Month

During thyroid awareness month this January, experts remind the public to perform regular thyroid neck self-exams. Thyroid disease affects approximately 200 million people worldwide.

If thyroid disease is left undiagnosed and untreated, it can cause depression, tremors, muscle weakness, and constant fatigue.

“When not working properly [the thyroid] can cause the body’s system to speed up (hyperthyroidism) or slow down (hypothyroidism),” Marita Teng, MD, associate professor of otolaryngology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Head and Neck Institute at Mount Sinai, said in a statement. “Furthermore, although the vast majority of thyroid nodules are benign, some can be cancerous and require examination and workup.”

Affecting as many as 30 million Americans, thyroid disease is actually more common than diabetes and heart disease. Aging is one factor for hypothyroidism, and women are 5 times more likely than men to suffer from it.

Hypothyroidism is when the gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone, and hyperthyroidism is when the gland produces too much. The former causes the body’s systems to slow down, and the latter causes everything to speed up.

People who should consider getting their thyroid checked include people who:

  • Have a parent, sibling or child with thyroid disease;
  • Are taking the medications Lithium and Amiodarone;
  • Have had radiation therapy for the tonsils, an enlarged thymus, or acne; and
  • Lived near Chernobyl at the time of the 1986 nuclear accident.

A self-exam is fairly simply to perform. The thyroid gland is in the lower front area of the neck, above the collarbones and below the voice box. Looking in a mirror, tip your head back and take a drink of water. As you swallow, look for bulges or protrusions. An enlarged thyroid gland or nodule should be checked for the presence of cancer and a physician should determine if treatment for thyroid disease is needed.

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