Dear Dr. Garner,
I am 35 years old and in good physical condition. Lately, I notice that my hair has become thin and is falling out. My menstrual cycle has also become irregular.
My mother tells me that something similar happened to her, and they found that her thyroid was not working properly.
What do you think?
Thyroid Concerns in
Dear Thyroid Concerns,
Thyroid disease is one of the most under-diagnosed diseases. Millions of Americans have the disease and don’t even know it. The disease is often confused with infertility, heart problems and depression. Women are affected significantly more often than men. It is especially important for a female to fully understand the effects of the disease and how it can be treated.
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland found on either side of the Adam’s apple. It is the main thermostat of the body, controlling energy and metabolism. It can be overactive or underactive.
You may be at high risk for thyroid disease if you are female, a smoker, have a family member with the disease, have been treated with lithium, have just had a baby, have been exposed to large amounts of radiation, have fibromyalgia, have chronic fatigue syndrome or have been treated with X-rays for acne.
The diagnosis is made by a combination of a physical exam and blood tests. The actual level of thyroid hormone and other related hormones can be determined. The doctor will evaluate the gland for any nodules or lumps. A sonogram may be ordered to examine the gland for any masses or enlargement.
Treatments are Available
The good news is that thyroid disease can be treated. Whether due to an overactive or underactive gland, with the use of medication or surgery, a person with thyroid disease can live a normal life.
Thyroid disease falls into the category of autoimmune disease. This means that the body attacks itself and in this case, the thyroid gland. The gland loses its ability to function properly, and either a state of too much or too little thyroid hormone occurs. No one knows why this autoimmune reaction occurs. It is similar to what happens in diabetes, except in that disease, it is the pancreas that is attacked by the body.
Autoimmune diseases are much more prevalent in women.
Occasionally, a cancer will develop in the thyroid gland. It may not produce any symptoms other than a lump in the gland. It is important that a yearly physical be performed. Your doctor may order a small needle biopsy, in which the nodule is punctured by a small needle, and cells are sent to the pathologist for review.
If the disease is discovered early, a full recovery is likely.
It is important to have a normally functioning thyroid gland. If it starts to fail, many other body organs will eventually develop damage or even die. I suggest that you make an appointment with your physician and get this checked.
Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97, Cablevision Channel 30 and Verizon FiOS on Demand.