Dr. Jeff Harp of Highland Family Medicine discussed the prevalence of thyroid disease and the symptoms associated with it Thursday during News 8 at Sunrise.
“The thyroid is a gland that kind of works like the body’s thermostat,” Dr. Harp explained. “It’s located in our neck and it regulates kind of how fast our metabolism goes.”
Dr. Harp said a damaged thyroid can have a significant impact. “So basically you think about what kind of problems would happen if your thermostat was off. So if your thermostat is working too hard, everything is too hot and too active. So if your thyroid is overactive you can be irritable, sleepless, maybe you’re having weight loss. And the exact opposite is true if a thyroid is under active. People can feel logy, be prone to gain weight, be kind of just sleepy all the time.”
When it comes to thyroid disease, there are symptoms that present in a similar fashion, and some that don’t. “So thyroids can either be overactive or under active and there are some risk factors that are the same for both. Women are more likely to have thyroid disease than men. Older people are more likely than younger people. But then there are some things that are unique. Like people that have had radiation for treatment of some sort of condition to their neck are more likely to have under active. People who take certain medicines like Amiodarone people might have heard about for their heart are more likely to be overactive. Caucasians are likely to be under active. African-Americans are likely to be overactive. So there are some things that are the same, and some things that are different, in terms of the risks for thyroid disease.”
Dr. Harp said detecting thyroid disease comes from drawing a lab test called a TSH, and it is the same test that we do to find out if a thyroid is under active or overactive. “Generally one test alone is not enough to diagnose it. People should have a couple of tests over a period of time to be sure that the test shows what is actually going on. And then there’s usually a few confirmatory tests that need to be done also.”
About one out of eight people develop some sort of thyroid disease at one point in their lifetime according to Dr. Harp. So by the time we hit our 60’s and 70’s about one out of eight people has had thyroid disease. “There are a group of people that gets together and thinks about these things called the United States Preventative Service Task Force and they review all of the information about this. And they’ve decided that thyroid disease is detectable enough in people and treatable enough when people have symptoms that we don’t need to go looking for it when people don’t have symptoms. So screening is looking for a disease before it has any kind of symptoms. That really doesn’t seem to pay off for thyroid disease. Although if you are having symptoms like we talked about that seem like there might be thyroid disease, then it makes sense to talk to your personal physician, and ask whether or not it would be worth testing for it.”