January is Thyroid Awareness Month
The thyroid glands are two small glands found at the base of the neck. Small as they are, they play a very important role in our body. So why is this awareness campaign so important to our BOL readers?
- Because 60 million people in the US are suffering from some form of thyroid disorder.
- Because the large majority of those affected are women of childbearing age who may be mothers, are pregnant or are planning to get pregnant.
- Because many people with thyroid problems are not aware that they have them.
- Because thyroid disorders are difficult to diagnose but once identified, are easily managed and treated.
Thyroid problems and women
Thyroid disorders are more common in females than in males. According to the National Women’s Health Information Center (NWHIC), women are 4 to 8 times more likely to have Graves’ disease (the most common of thyroid disorders) than men and are 3 times more likely to have thyroid cancer. Incidence is highest in women 30 years old and above.
According to patient advocate Mary Shomon, author and initiator of Thyroid Awareness Month campaign, many health problems including “obesity, depression, fatigue, high cholesterol, infertility, and low sex drive” can be traced to a malfunctioning thyroid.
Even Ophra Winfrey herself had thyroid problems that took time to be diagnosed and led her to gain 40 pounds.
Thyroid problems after pregnancy
The thyroid glands undergo changes during pregnancy in terms of size and function. However, these changes are within the normal range and usually disappear after delivery. There are however, thyroid problems which occur after delivery. Postpartum thyroiditis is the inflammation of the thyroid glands 4 to 12 months after delivery. The cause of most cases is unknown. According to the American Thyroid Association, this condition occurs in 5 to 7 % of women right after giving birth. The condition might resolve itself after a couple of months but a number of cases would require removal of the glands and would require life-long hormone replacement therapy. A very rare form of postpartum thyroid disorder is the Sheehan’s syndrome or postpartum hypopituitarism. It occurs when the pituitary gland I damaged due to excess blood loss during delivery.
Self-checking for thyroid problems
It is clear that women should take care of their thyroid health. Mary Shomon recommends the following steps to check for possible signs of thyroid problems:
- Stand in front of a mirror
- Stretch your neck back
- Swallow water
- Look for enlargement in your neck (below the Adam’s Apple, above the collar bone)
- Feel the area to confirm enlargement or bump
- If any problem is detected, see a doctor.