January is Thyroid Awareness Month—how is your thyroid?  Despite the prevalence of thyroid disorders, few people know much about this important gland, so now is a good time to boost your thyroid awareness.

What is the Thyroid Gland?

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that can be found at the base of your throat, right beneath where an Adam’s apple might be. Don’t let it’s tiny size fool you—the thyroid plays a powerful role in our health, influencing the function of the heart, brain, liver, kidney, and skin.

What Are Warning Signs of a Thyroid Problem?

An informative article in Reader’s Digest, based on an interview with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, highlighted 13 silent signs of a thyroid disorder:

  • Sudden anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Thinning hair
  • Random sweating
  • Weight gain/bloating
  • Increased appetite (often without weight gain)
  • Brain fog
  • Hyperactivity
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Infertility/miscarriage
  • Developmental delays in children

If you suspect that you have a thyroid problem, your family doctor will probably refer you to an endocrinologist. From there, a series of tests can determine whether you thyroid is underproductive, overproductive, or if you have some other kind of thyroid disorder.

What are the Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer?

While it’s important to address any disturbance in thyroid function, some problems are more serious than others. People can develop cancer in their thyroid gland and, like with all forms of the disease, early intervention is associated with the best outcomes.

According to the American Cancer Society, symptoms of thyroid cancer include:

  • Swelling or a lump in the neck, sometimes growing rapidly
  • Pain in the front of the neck, sometimes traveling up to the ears
  • Hoarseness or other persistent voice changes
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chronic cough

If you begin experiencing any of these symptoms, see your primary care physician for evaluation. 

Common Treatment Options

The treatment for thyroid cancer is determined on a case-by-case basis by an oncologist. According to WebMD, these are the three primary treatment options for thyroid-related disorders: 

  • Radioactive iodide treatment
  • Medication
  • Surgery

These treatments are effective and typically result in lifelong management of thyroid disorders and related symptoms. Some people try alternative therapies such as homeopathic remedies, dietary changes, and chiropractic adjustments, but there has been little research to determine the effectiveness of these approaches.

It’s important to be aware of the signs, symptoms, and risks associated with thyroid dysfunction. It’s the start of a new year, so there’s no better time to commit to loving and caring for your body!