By Sophia L. Thomas, DNP, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP
January is Thyroid Awareness Month, a time we set aside each year to recognize the many challenges that people with thyroid disorders endure every day and to raise awareness of the need to get regular checkups to prevent serious conditions. An estimated 20 million Americans are living with a thyroid disorder, and as high as 60% of people with a thyroid disease don’t know they have it.
The thyroid is a small organ in your throat that plays an outsized role in your health and wellbeing. The thyroid is part of your endocrine system, which is a collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate mood, metabolism and several other important bodily functions. The thyroid produces thyroid hormones, which impact the body’s growth, temperature, fertility, digestion and heart rate. Most importantly, thyroid hormones control the rate at which the body’s cells and organs convert nutrients into energy and the amount of oxygen cells use. When this important gland isn’t functioning properly, it can cause a lot of issues!
Women are more likely to develop a thyroid issue than men, with an estimated one in eight women developing thyroid problems during their lifetime. This is especially alarming as thyroid issues in women can cause:
- Problems with the menstrual cycle. The thyroid helps regulate the body’s menstrual cycle. If the body’s immune system causes thyroid disease, then other glands — including the ovaries — can be affected, which could lead to amenorrhea; menorrhagia; light, heavy or irregular cycles; or early menopause.
- Fertility issues. When thyroid disease affects the menstrual cycle, it can also impact fertility, making it harder to get pregnant.
- Problems during pregnancy. Having thyroid issues during pregnancy can lead to health complications for the mother and baby.
Understanding your risk factors and consulting with a nurse practitioner — or other health care provider — can help prevent the development of many serious thyroid issues. Be sure to talk to your provider if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Are over the age of 60.
- Recently became pregnant.
- Have an autoimmune disease (like Type 1 diabetes).
- Have a family history of thyroid issues or autoimmune disease.
- Personal history of thyroid issues — like goiter (an unusually large thyroid gland) — or have previously had thyroid surgery.
- Consume excessive amounts of iodine through medication or in your diet.
This January, get ahead of thyroid disease by talking to your health care provider.