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Healthy Balance

How Your Thyroid Affects Your Health

woman touching the base of her neck, where the thyroid is
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your lower neck.

Your thyroid may be small, but it’s a workhorse when it comes to keeping you healthy. The butterfly-shaped gland in your lower neck produces hormones that affect your entire body. When it produces too much or not enough hormones, it can affect everything from your weight to your energy level.

Twenty million Americans have thyroid problems, according to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), and most are women. The ATA estimates that women are five to eight times more likely to have these disorders than men.

Two of the most common thyroid diseases are:

  • Not making enough hormones (hypothyroidism)
  • Producing too many hormones (hyperthyroidism)

About 1 in 20 Americans age 12 and over have hypothyroidism, and about 1 in 100 have hyperthyroidism.

What Causes Thyroid Disease?

Here are 5 reasons why your thyroid may not work properly:

  • Autoimmune diseases. Your immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues and organs, including the thyroid.
  • Pregnancy. Sometimes high levels of the pregnancy hormone hCG cause the thyroid to make more hormones than you and your baby need. A mild, undetected thyroid issue may also only come to light once the hormonal demands of pregnancy kick in.
  • Lack of iodine in your diet. Your body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones.
  • Medication. Some medications, such as lithium prescribed for mood disorders, may impact your thyroid.
  • Radiation therapy to the neck.

In addition to the reasons above, others risk factors include being over age 60 or having a family history of thyroid disease.

Symptoms of Thyroid Problems?

Make an appointment with your primary care provider. Don’t have one? Find a UVA primary care clinic near you.

What are the Symptoms?

As many as 60% of people with thyroid disease don’t know they have it. That’s because symptoms are similar to many other common conditions.

Signs of hypothyroidism include:

  • Tiredness
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Slow heart rate

Signs of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Weight loss
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Anxiety

How Do I Know if I Have Thyroid Disease?

If you have any of the risk factors or symptoms listed above, make an appointment with your doctor. Blood tests can check your thyroid hormone levels. Depending on whether levels are low or high, you may be prescribed medication to replace the hormones you’re lacking or to block the release of excess hormones. In some cases, surgery to remove your thyroid gland may be necessary.

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