January Is Thyroid Awareness Month

If you are like most people, you don't think about your thyroid until you feel something amiss. The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is located in the base of the neck. Similar to a car engine, we rely on our thyroid to make the body run as it produces hormones that deliver energy to nearly every cell, tissue, and organ in the body. If uncontrolled, critical bodily functions including metabolism, digestion, cognitive abilities and regulation of body temperature can be affected severely. According to the American Thyroid Association, thyroid disease affects more than 20 million Americans annually with up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease unaware of their condition.

"Thyroid dysfunction occurs when the thyroid produces too little or too much thyroid hormone, resulting in the body's system to alter its speed by slowing down or going into overdrive," said Dr. Mindy P. Griffith, a board-certified endocrinologist affiliated with Jersey City Medical Center. "As many of the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction can also be attributed to other ailments, numerous cases of thyroid disease remain undiagnosed. Thyroid disease does not discriminate based on gender nor age; however, women are five times more likely than men to be afflicted and an individual's risk increases with age."

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism (Slow Down)

  • Constipation
  • Concentration/Memory Problems
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Infertility
  • Hair Loss
  • Low Sex Drive
  • Weight Gain
  • Slow Heart Rate
  • Elevated Cholesterol

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism (Speed Up)

  • Anxiety/Panic Attacks
  • Diarrhea
  • Fast Heart Rate
  • Hypertension
  • Dry Eyes
  • Pain with Eye Movement
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Rapid Weight Loss

In addition to hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, the thyroid can also become enlarged (known as a goiter), develop cysts (known as nodules), and can become cancerous. According to the American Cancer Society, thyroid cancer has become one of the fastest-growing cancers in the United States. Thyroid cancer diagnoses have tripled in the past three decades with much of the increase due to the growing use of thyroid ultrasound which can detect small thyroid nodules that might not have previously been found. The good news is that despite the escalating diagnoses most thyroid cancers can be successfully treated.

Dr. Griffith added, "Early diagnosis and subsequent treatment are so important in managing thyroid disease as it truly can curtail many of the symptoms that most experience and minimize the overall long-term effects of uncontrolled thyroid disease."

Throughout the month of January, the presence of blue paisley ribbons helps illustrate the importance of thyroid awareness and advocacy. Paisley ribbons were chosen by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) in 2012 as the icon for awareness as it resembles a cross-section of thyroid follicles.

For more information or to find a specialist who treats and manages diseases associated with hormones including thyroid disorders, please visit rwjbh.org/medicalgroup and select find a doctor, where you can search by physician name, specialty or location.