It’s estimated that one-in-eight women will develop thyroid problems during her lifetime. Stats like that deserve your attention. So what exactly is a thyroid, and why does it have such a big impact on your health?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located near the front of the neck. The wings of the butterfly, or lobes, rest next to the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus. Although relatively small, the thyroid gland has a big job to do. It produces hormones that help control the function of many of the body’s most important organs — including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin.
Producing too much (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism) thyroid hormone can cause problems with these organ systems and produce a wide range of symptoms that may require medical treatment. Common signs your thyroid might be off include:
· Increased sensitivity to cold
· Dry skin
· Weight gain
· Puffy face
For women, a thyroid condition can result in heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods. It can also affect ovulation, making it harder to conceive. Before starting a family, it’s recommended you consult with your doctor about your thyroid health and, if any issues are discovered, medication can be prescribed to manage them.
An undiagnosed thyroid condition can impact both mom and baby:
· Hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone) can cause premature birth, preeclampsia, fast heart rate in the newborn, low birth weight or miscarriage.
· Hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone) can cause lower than normal number of red blood cells (known as anemia), preeclampsia, low birth weight, miscarriage, stillbirth or impact a baby’s brain development.
If you’re curious about your own thyroid, here are four easy steps you can do at home
Step 1 Face a mirror
Step 2 Take a sip of water
Step 3 Tilt your head back, while still being able to see the mirror
Step 4 When you swallow the water, look for any lumps or areas below the Adam’s apple that are different from one side to the other
For more info, visit thyroid.org
Thyroid nodules are usually round and move with the gland when you swallow. You may feel an enlarged thyroid (goiter) or nodule rolling underneath your fingertips or see it move when you swallow — but you may also simply notice your thyroid gland!
If you find any lumps or swelling in this area that are more prominent on one side than the other, or if you experience any of the symptoms noted above, talk to your doctor who can evaluate you with blood tests and, if appropriate, a thyroid ultrasound.
Dr. Julie Doan is a physician specializing in Internal Medicine, practicing at Ochsner Baptist Medical Center. Dr. Doan attended Medical School at Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. She completed her residency program at Louisiana State University in New Orleans.