Moves in Medicine: Staying ahead of thyroid disease and issues

Thyroid problems are among the most common medical concerns, especially for women.

And they can have a real effect on someone's quality of life.

In this week's Moves in Medicine, we look at why staying on top of thyroid issues is so important.

For Joanne Sanferraro, of Marlton, New Jersey, the first signs came at age 14.

"I was heavy all my life but gaining even more weight, I felt that my hair was starting to go," Sanferraro says.

The diagnosis - an underactive thyroid, put Joanne on thyroid replacement medication ever since.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck that helps regulate metabolism.

But Dr. Jonathan Anolik of Temple Health says hyperthyroidism (overactive gland) and hypothyroidism (underactive gland) occur the most.

Women develop them about eight times as often as men.

Overactive glands cause weight loss, nervous feelings, rapid heartbeats or palpitations, and one to feel hot all the time.

An underactive one produces the opposite.

According to Dr. Anolik, symptoms include, "fatigue, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, the hair can get a little bit dry and break."

A blood test called TSH can confirm the diagnosis.

Overactive thyroids are often treated with radioactive iodine or surgery.

Medications are used for underactive ones. But some patients don't take them right.

"It is a tricky medication to get absorbed, and you have to take it by itself, usually first thing in the morning and wait at least half an hour to an hour to either eat or take other medications," Dr. Anolik says.

The dosage needs to be checked periodically - including during pregnancy, menopause, and when starting or stopping birth control pills, or with big weight changes.

Joanne is getting her dose adjusted after getting onto a healthy lifestyle and losing weight.

"You don't need as much of the medicine, and that makes sense to me," she says.

Untreated thyroid problems can lead to serious trouble with the heart, bones, muscles, and fertility.

So take any symptoms seriously, and see your healthcare provider.

Learn more about thyroid disorders and Temple Health's services for them HERE.
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