By Dr. Annell St. Charles, PhD, RD
An estimated 27 million Americans have thyroid disease, and more than half of them are undiagnosed. Thyroid disease affects almost every aspect of health, so understanding more about the thyroid — and the symptoms that occur when something goes wrong with this small gland — can help protect and restore health.
Women are at the greatest risk of developing thyroid problems. Thyroid disorders occur in women approximately seven times more often than men. A woman faces as high as a one in five chance of developing thyroid problems during her lifetime. The risk also increases with age and for those with a family history of thyroid problems.
The thyroid is a small gland located in the lower part of the neck, lying against and around the larynx and trachea. The word thyroid comes from the Greek word for “shield,” which refers to its shield-like covering of the larynx and trachea. Palpating the laryngeal prominence, also known as the Adam’s apple, helps to identify the upper margin of the thyroid gland. However, its location is also rather elusive because it moves with the act of swallowing.
The thyroid gland manufactures and stores thyroid hormone (TH), often referred to as the body’s metabolic hormone. Among other jobs, TH stimulates enzymes that combine oxygen and glucose, a process that increases your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and body heat production. The hormone also helps maintain blood pressure and regulates tissue growth and development. The hormone is critical for skeletal and nervous system development. It plays an important role in the development of the reproductive system.
Check Your Neck
Every time you look in the mirror, a key to your well-being stares back at you. An enlarged thyroid may mean your gland is producing too much or too little hormone. The key is knowing what to watch for. Perform this simple self-check once every two months.
- Hold a mirror in front of you and focus your gaze on the lower front area of your neck, right above your collarbone.
- Tilt your head back, moving the mirror along with you.
- Take a medium-size sip of water.
- As you swallow, watch your thyroid area, checking for any unusual bulges or protrusions. (Note: Don’t confuse your thyroid with your Adam’s apple, which is farther up.)
- If you see anything suspicious, contact your physician.
Source: American College of Endocrinology
If you think you may have a thyroid disorder or are concerned about any of the symptoms listed above, it’s important to talk to your health care provider. For information about this home-study course, check out our bookstore.