Did you know, over 1 million Australians have an undiagnosed thyroid disorder? May 2021 is ATF (Australian Thyroid Foundation) Thyroid Awareness Month, so it is time to check your thyroid.
What is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid gland plays a huge role in regulating the way the body functions and can have an enormous impact on a person’s overall health and wellbeing. The gland itself is a soft, small bow-shaped gland, located in the front of the neck on either side of the trachea (windpipe).
A healthy thyroid gland uses iodine from ingested food to produce a hormone which regulates body and brain growth and development, body temperature, energy levels and metabolic functions. The thyroid hormones also regulate the activity of all cells and tissues in the body.
During the month of May the Australian Thyroid Foundation is encouraging people of all ages to check their thyroids and take notice of possible symptoms. Thyroid disorders are ten times more likely to affect women than men, so it is extra important for women to take the time to check their thyroid and follow up any worrying symptoms.
How to check your own thyroid gland
To check your own thyroid:
- stand in front of a mirror,
- take a sip of water (hold it in your mouth),
- tip your head back,
- look at your neck and throat in the mirror while swallowing,
- as you swallow, watch for any bulges or lumps that may appear.
What are the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction or disease?
Because many body functions are regulated by hormones, there are several symptoms that could indicate a thyroid issue – both one-off experiences and long-term symptoms. These include:
- persistently high heart rate,
- excessive, unexplained tiredness,
- weight gain or loss,
- body shakes or tremors,
- feeling cold or over-heated,
- trouble concentrating, and
- hair loss.
Many of these signs and symptoms can be related to any number of disorders or disease processes, so it is important to speak to a doctor if any of the above symptoms are present and are causing concern.
Early diagnosis, treatment and management can help improve quality of life and stop mild thyroid disorders becoming worse or potentially progressing to serious thyroid disease.
What causes thyroid disorders?
There are many possible causes of thyroid disorders, including:
Viral and bacterial inflammation causing thyroiditis
Familial disorders (inherited/genetic problems or diseases)
Nodules which have formed on the thyroid gland
Benign or malignant cancerous cells or tumours on the thyroid gland
The thyroid gland is responsible for controlling the release of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. The thyroid gland receives signals from other glands in the endocrine system, which regulate the thyroid gland’s activity and influence the release of the thyroid hormones.
Sometimes after receiving this signal, the thyroid gland doesn’t release the necessary hormones. This is called primary hypothyroidism. Approximately 90% of primary hypothyroidism is caused by an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system mistakenly to attack the thyroid gland. This can cause pain and inflammation and prevent the thyroid from producing enough hormones.
Sometimes the signal system doesn’t work correctly, and the thyroid gland becomes overactive, producing too much thyroid hormone. This is known as hyperthyroidism and it causes the body’s metabolic functions to speed up causing symptoms including unexpected weight loss, rapid or irregular heartbeat, sweating and irritability. The elderly often experience hyperthyroidism with no symptoms.
How can I manage my thyroid disorder?
Standard treatment involves daily medication using a synthetic thyroid hormone drug that moderates hormone levels, reversing the signs and symptoms. A combination of the right nutrients in a healthy diet can also help to restore thyroid function and minimise symptoms.
Several nutrients are important for optimal thyroid health, including iodine, selenium, and zinc. However, it is important to ensure the balance is correct because, while deficiencies can reduce thyroid function, too much can damage the thyroid gland and affect other vital organs. Just as importantly there are nutrients that are harmful to the health of those with thyroid problems. It is important to discuss nutrition and diet with your doctor, and never take a supplement without first seeking advice from a healthcare professional.
Are thyroid disorders common?
The endocrine organs, including the thyroid gland, changes during aging, and the occurrence of thyroid disorders, especially an underactive thyroid, increases with age. Recent research has shown that around 14% of older Australians suffer from a thyroid disorder with 4% having an undiagnosed thyroid disorder.
Worldwide, thyroid disorders affect women 10 times more than men. Studies have also shown that approximately 10% of pregnant women in Australia suffer from mild hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).
Statistics also show that the incidence of thyroid cancer is rising, with cancer research revealing that in the 10 years up to 2014, the rate of thyroid cancer increased by 84% in women and 48% in men.
What support is available for people with thyroid problems?
There are several resources and support services available for people suffering with thyroid problems and chronic thyroid disease, including:
- the Australian Thyroid Foundation, who have membership options available,
- a variety of Facebook groups, including the Australian Thyroid Foundation’s Facebook page, and private support groups such as Thyroid Support Group Australia
- a number of organisations, websites, and support groups for people with specific thyroid conditions, such as Graves Disease and Hashimoto’s Disease
In addition to support groups and online information sources, there are disability and support services available to assist people whose thyroid disease is affecting their ability to live independently, such as ConnectAbility.
ConnectAbility is a disability and aged care services and support organisation that provides flexible, individually tailored and quality services to support people of all ages to live life to the fullest. We offer in-home care and support, to help individuals continue to enjoy life and maintain their connection with family, friends, and the local community.
Care services include personal care such as assisting with the activities of daily living, and mobility; support services such as family counselling services, domestic assistance, shopping, lawn mowing and home maintenance; and clinical services like nursing and occupational therapy.
How can I get assistance living with my thyroid disorder?
If you need help managing your life while living with a thyroid disorder, there may also be other areas of your life that ConnectAbility can help you with. We offer a range of services for people who are differently abled or are elderly.
If you’d like to know more about disability services, aged care support, and community programs we offer, please contact us using our online form, call us, or send us an email and we will get back to you as soon as possible.