It’s that time of year when many of our residents here in Maricopa and beyond begin to focus on improving their health in the new year. That is what my patient, who we will call “Wilma,” was doing when she came in for a visit this January. Wilma complained of fatigue, weight gain, and hair loss. She mentioned her mother who had thyroid problems and she wondered if she also had thyroid abnormalities.

Wilma had some valid concerns because thyroid disorders tend to run in families. Thyroid conditions also affect an estimated 20 million Americans and as many as 60 percent of people with a thyroid disease don’t know they have a problem, according to the American Thyroid Association. Women are particularly at risk as one in eight will develop a thyroid disorder which is five to eight times the rate in men.

The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that rests against the trachea below the larynx. As a gland it is controlled by the pituitary gland in the brain and it influences every cell in the body. The thyroid gland takes up iodine from the food we eat and converts it into T3 and T4 hormones that regulate many processes in the body – so many it would take several pages to describe them all. The thyroid gland is the body’s metabolic control center and is a component of the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis responsible for maintaining normal levels of thyroid hormones. Essentially the brain tells the thyroid what to do.

Causes of thyroid problems are largely unknown. Most thyroid disorders are lifelong conditions that can be managed with treatment. Because the thyroid plays such an important and complex role in the body, diagnosing a thyroid disorder can be challenging due to vague and nonspecific symptoms. With the help of a professional provider patients can understand their thyroid condition and treatments that are generally not too complicated.

Don’t fall for thyroid myths. A lump on your neck does not necessarily indicate a thyroid problem. If you feel tired and are gaining weight it is not necessarily due to a thyroid disorder. Extra iodine will not improve thyroid health. Some believe that if you have a thyroid problem you will know it. This is not always true, and many people don’t know they have an abnormality.

The thyroid is a complex hormonal gland that can affect almost all functions in the incredibly elaborate and complicated human body. So, take the time to study your symptoms as they relate to the thyroid and seek professional help to pinpoint the true cause of symptoms in order to start treatment.

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Kyle Stoeckmann is a doctor at Agave Family Physicians, 21300 N. John Wayne Pkwy., Maricopa.

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