January is Thyroid Awareness Month. Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, just above your collarbone. It is one of your endocrine glands, which make hormones. Thyroid hormones control the rate of many activities in your body. These include how fast you burn calories and how fast your heart beats. All of these activities are your body’s metabolism.
Thyroid problems include:
- Goiter—enlargement of the thyroid gland
- Hyperthyroidism—when your thyroid gland makes more thyroid hormones than your body needs
- Hypothyroidism—when your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormones
- Thyroid cancer
- Thyroid nodules—lumps in the thyroid gland
- Thyroiditis—swelling of the thyroid
Who is at risk?
Thyroid dysfunction is very common throughout the world, especially in women. Why women are more at risk than men is not fully understood, but they are not only more likely to have thyroid problems, but also develop them earlier in life. Certain times in a woman’s life make her more vulnerable to thyroid problems, including during puberty, at first menstruation, during pregnancy, within six months of giving birth and during menopause.
Regardless of your gender, you are at risk of thyroid dysfunctions if you:
- Have a family history of thyroid problems
- Have an autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes
- Are over the age of 50
- Have had thyroid surgery
- Have Down’s or Turner’s syndrome
Nearly 59 million Americans suffer from thyroid problems, but the majority do not even know they are affected. People who have had radiation treatments or whose necks have been exposed to x-rays are also more likely to suffer from thyroid problems. Interestingly Caucasian and Asian people are three times more at risk if compared to other populations.