An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, but up to 60 percent of those with the disease are unaware of their condition. Although many causes of thyroid diseases are unknown, it is important to understand the function of the thyroid and be aware of signs and symptoms that may indicate something is wrong.
“The thyroid is a small gland, but it plays a big role in producing hormones which are vital to your health and affect everything from metabolism and digestion to breathing and reproductive health,” says Summit Health Endocrinologist, Dr. Jeffrey Bauman. “So, it is vitally important to ensure your thyroid gland is healthy and functioning properly.” Here’s the rundown…
The thyroid is a gland in the front of the neck. It produces hormones responsible for controlling the body’s metabolism or use of energy. When your thyroid produces too many hormones it is considered overactive and referred to as hyperthyroidism. When your thyroid does not produce enough hormones, it is considered underactive and referred to as hypothyroidism. “Both types of imbalances can be associated with a wide range of symptoms,” says Bauman. “Hypothyroidism is common and typically slows down bodily functions while hyperthyroidism can increase those same functions.”
|Symptoms of Hypothyroidism||Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism|
|Intolerance to cold||Weight Loss|
|Slowed Heart Rate||Increased Anxiety/Irritability|
|Low Energy or Decreased Mood||Trouble Sleeping|
|Brittle hair||Neck Swelling|
|Constipation||Increased Heart Rate/Palpitations|
|Forgetfulness||Increased Blood Pressure|
|Heavy Menstrual Periods||Hair Loss|
|Reduced Fertility||Excessive Sweating|
|Weight Gain||Vision Problems|
Hypothyroidism cannot be cured, but it can be controlled in most cases through nutrition changes coupled with thyroid hormone supplements and medication. Summit Health National VP, Pharmacy Services, Dr. Laura Balsamini explains, “Generally, hypothyroidism is irreversible and so once diagnosed, medication must be taken for life.” She adds, “Levothyroxine is the most commonly prescribed pharmaceutical for the treatment of hypothyroidism. Although there is great interindividual variation in dosage, once determined, the condition is often easy to control.”
There are several treatments available to counteract hyperthyroidism. Treatment is determined based on age, size of the thyroid gland, and the presence of other medical issues and can include radioactive iodine, anti-thyroid medicine, beta blockers, and in some cases, surgery.
The Importance of MEDICATION MANAGEMENT
“Non-adherence to any medication can lead to poor clinical outcomes, but when it comes to thyroid disease, medication adherence is absolutely critical,” Says Dr. Balsamini. She adds, “Treatment is typically pretty straightforward, but in order to be successful, it’s really important to not only follow the plan your doctor discussed and ordered, but to also pay close attention to the below tips.
- You may not feel better immediately, but DO NOT stop treatment unless directed by your doctor. A simple dosage change could make all the difference, but your doctor is the best person to determine that.
- Food can affect medication absorption, so taking your medication in the morning on an empty stomach and waiting at least 30-60 minutes before eating, drinking (water is okay), or taking other medications should garner the best results. Keep record of your schedule and any side effects that you experience. Your doctor can help recognize patterns and adjust medication accordingly.
- We are all human and sometimes we forget things – like taking our medication! If you miss a dose, it’s typically best to take it with your next dose the following day. Note, this missed dose instruction is unique to thyroid medications and should not be applied to other missed medications without confirming with your doctor or pharmacist.
- Medications and supplements can interfere with one another, so let your doctor know of all medications and supplements you are on.
- There are several brand names of thyroid medications available. While some patients take brand name, many patients are successfully treated with generic medications at a lower cost. Discuss options with your doctor.
- If you are having thyroid lab testing, DO NOT take high dose biotin supplements within 1-2 days prior. This can affect your results.
In many cases, a primary care physician can help manage thyroid conditions. However, for complex cases, patients may need to see an endocrinologist who is trained and experienced in choosing the proper medication, monitoring dose adjustments, advising of possible interactions, and delving deeper into your individual symptoms.