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What you don’t know about thyroid disorders could hurt you

Most people are unaware of how the thyroid gland functions.

ultrasound scanner on neckOver 27 million Americans suffer from the weight changes, mood swings and menstrual disorders that are often associated with a thyroid imbalance.

But recent studies show that almost half are unaware that they even have a medical condition.

What is the thyroid?

Located in the front part of the neck, the thyroid gland produces thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), the hormones responsible for regulating the body’s metabolism. These hormones also affect the proper function of the heart and the muscles. “Most people go through their daily lives without even recognizing how important the thyroid gland is,” says Dr. Kavita Juneja, an endocrinologist with The Austin Diagnostic Clinic.

The release of T4 and T3 is controlled by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, an area at the base of the brain that works like a thermostat for your system.

“The hypothalamus alerts the pituitary gland to produce a hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH, and the amount that is released is determined by how much T4 and T3 is in the blood,” explains Dr. Juneja. “If the thyroid is producing too much or too little of these hormones, it can cause serious problems.”

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism occurs when thyroid hormones are over-produced. Symptoms can include weight loss, nervousness, increased heart rate, irregular menstrual period and fatigue.

“The onset of these symptoms can be so gradual, that many people won’t even notice them until they become more severe,” explains Dr. Juneja. “It can take weeks or even months for the body to feel the full impact of the increase in hormone levels.”

Hypothyroidism

On the opposite end of the scale is hypothyroidism, caused by insufficient amounts of thyroid hormone. “Because the thyroid is in control of the body’s metabolism, people with hypothyroidism often have symptoms associated with a slow metabolism, such as weight gain,” says Dr. Juneja. “Other symptoms include fatigue, memory loss and intolerance to cold.” Studies have shown that more than 10 percent of all women have some varying degree of hypothyroidism.   Most have gone undiagnosed.

Other thyroid conditions include thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid gland, and goiter, an enlarged thyroid gland. Thyroid cancer can also develop.  More than 20,000 cases are diagnosed each year, primarily in women.

“Surprisingly, about 40-50 percent of the U.S. population over 60 years old have thyroid nodules that can turn into thyroid cancer,” says Dr. Juneja, “but the vast majority of nodules are benign.”

Hypo- and hyperthyroidism are treatable

“A blood test is the first step in determining if these conditions exist,” explains Dr. Juneja. “Once diagnosed, treatment options range from prescription medications to surgery.”

“Because thyroid problems develop gradually, it’s important to talk with your doctor about how you can effectively monitor the hormone levels in your blood,” urges Dr. Juneja.  “Educate yourself on the causes and symptoms and be aware of how your body is functioning. There is no reason why a thyroid condition should go undiagnosed or, worse yet, untreated.”

Our endocrinologists also performing ultrasound guided biopsy of thyroid nodule with the latest state-of-the-art ultrasound equipment.

Additionally, the Endocrinology department also encompasses The Austin Diagnostic Clinic’s Diabetes Management Center (which is certified by the American Diabetes Association) and the Health Risk Management department, a nationally award winning, medically-supervised weight loss program.