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FOCUS ON…Thyroid Awareness with Jeffry Mutuc, MD, MPH

January 20, 2022

January is Thyroid Awareness Month. The American Thyroid Association (ATA) reports that one in 10 people suffers from a thyroid disorder. ATA also says that one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime. But what is the thyroid, and how does it keep you healthy? Let’s answer a few basic questions.

What is the thyroid, and what does it do?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of the neck. It is a gland that secretes hormones related to several different processes in the body including normal development. It also regulates metabolism, which is the process of transforming food into energy.

What are the diseases related to a malfunctioning thyroid?

When the thyroid does not create enough hormones, it is called hypothyroidism. Some common symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, fatigue, and sometimes depression.

When the thyroid produces too much hormone, it is called hyperthyroidism, which can result in unintentional weight loss, nervousness, sleep issues, and even vision problems.

Some people have autoimmune diseases that cause thyroid disease but often we may not know the source or cause of a person’s disease. You may have heard the term “goiter,” which refers to an enlargement of the thyroid gland. But having a goiter does not always mean there is a dysfunction of the thyroid.

Thyroid nodules are solid, or fluid-filled lumps within the thyroid. Most nodules don’t cause symptoms and don’t need to be treated but there are instances where more testing needs to be done. In addition, there is a subset of different but rare types of thyroid cancers.

The ATA reports that thyroid cancer is relatively uncommon, and that it is very treatable and often cured with surgery. It is more common in people who have a history of exposure to high doses of radiation, have a family history of thyroid cancer, and are old than 40. However, physicians generally don’t know the specific reason someone develops thyroid cancer.

How do I know if I have a thyroid disease? What are the symptoms I should look for?

You cannot necessarily tell you have a thyroid disease just by feeling or looking at the thyroid gland. If you are having any of the symptoms described above and there does not appear to be another known cause, your provider may order blood tests. Depending on the results of these thyroid function tests, imaging studies such as an ultrasound or MRI may be necessary.

Can thyroid diseases be controlled with medication?

Most thyroid diseases can be treated with medication. If your body does not make enough hormone by itself, you can supplement that with a daily pill with dosages that will be monitored and raised or lowered as needed. There are also medications to help slow down the production of an overactive thyroid. Most thyroid cancers respond to medication or a surgical procedure, but a very small percentage can be aggressive.

How common are thyroid diseases?

The American Thyroid Association estimates that there are approximately 20 million Americans with some sort of thyroid disease and “up to 60%... are unaware of their condition.” (

How important is a good diet to a healthy thyroid?

While there is no one specific diet that combats thyroid disease, eating a balanced diet rich in nutrients and vitamins helps promote normal thyroid activity. A multivitamin is not always necessary but also not harmful to the thyroid.

What resources does Ryan Health have to ensure patients have healthy thyroids?

At Ryan Health, depending on your symptoms, your provider will determine whether or not to order thyroid function tests. It is not part of a routine annual physical especially if you feel fine and do have any symptoms, so these blood tests are not automatically done every year. Always speak with your primary care provider first to determine if these are appropriate for you.

What does Ryan Health do to screen for common thyroid conditions?

The USPSTF (United States Preventative Service Task Force) is an independent panel of national experts on disease prevention and evidence-based medicine. It is where many practitioners go to get guidance on a variety of health issues. For people without symptoms, the USPSTF recommends against routine screening, because it can lead to unnecessary procedures and trauma or stress for patients. However, if you have a family history of thyroid disease or are pregnant, thyroid screening may be warranted. Again, please feel free to ask your provider if you should get these tests.