Many of us worry about being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes loom large in our fears, especially as we grow older.
But we often overlook one generally less life-threatening but still potent condition, thyroid disease, which is more common than heart disease or diabetes, according to the University of Michigan. In fact, up to 60% of Americans with thyroid disease — as many as 12 million people — don’t realize they have the illness.
People who are at a greater risk of developing thyroid disease include women, people over age 60 and people with a history of an autoimmune disease or a family history of thyroid disease.
The thyroid is a small gland that sits in your lower neck. Sometimes described as being shaped like a butterfly, this gland is important because it secretes hormones that impact nearly every organ in your body.
When something goes wrong with the thyroid, it can hamper regulation of the body’s metabolic processes and control of the body’s temperature.
And plenty can go wrong with this gland. In some cases, your body secretes too much thyroid hormone. Known as “hyperthyroidism,” this condition speeds up body processes, leading to symptoms such as:
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Increased sweating and heart rate
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
- Frequent bowel movements
By contrast, sometimes the body secretes too little thyroid hormone, a condition called “hypothyroidism,” which slows down body processes. Symptoms may include:
- Intolerance to cold
- Dry skin
- Mood swings and depression
The only sure way to know if you have thyroid disease is to see your doctor and have your blood tested to measure your thyroid hormone levels. If the results show a problem, further testing may be necessary to find the cause of the issue.
The good news is that most thyroid conditions are easily treatable, according to the University of Michigan. Medications often can correct the problem. In some cases of hyperthyroidism, you may require radioactive iodine treatment or surgery.