SPRING 2016

THE THYROID GLAND

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is normally located in the lower front of the neck.

The thyroid gland can be described as a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is normally located in the lower front of the neck. The thyroid’s job is to make thyroid hormones, which are secreted into the blood and then carried to every tissue in the body. Thyroid hormone helps the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working properly.

Prevalence and Impact of Thyroid Disease
Here are a few statistics about thyroid disease from the American Thyroid Association.

  • More than 12% of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime.
  • An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease.
  • Up to 60% of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.
  • Women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to have thyroid problems.
  • One woman in 8 will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.
  • Most thyroid cancers respond to treatment, although a small percentage can be very aggressive.
  • The causes of thyroid problems are largely unknown.
  • Undiagnosed thyroid disease may put patients at risk for certain serious conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, and infertility.
  • Pregnant women with undiagnosed or inadequately treated hypothyroidism have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, and severe developmental problems in their children.
  • Most thyroid diseases are life-long conditions that can be managed with medical attention.

Facts about the Thyroid Gland and Thyroid Disease
According to the ATA, the thyroid is a hormone-producing gland that regulates the body’s metabolism—the rate at which the body produces energy from nutrients and oxygen—and affects critical body functions, such as energy level and heart rate.

  • The thyroid gland is located in the middle of the lower neck.
  • Although the thyroid gland is relatively small, it produces a hormone that influences every cell, tissue and organ in the body.
  • Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone.
  • Symptoms include extreme fatigue, depression, forgetfulness, and some weight gain.
  • Hyperthyroidism, another form of thyroid disease, is a condition causing the gland to produce too much thyroid hormone. Symptoms include irritability, nervousness, muscle weakness, unexplained weight loss, sleep disturbances, vision problems and eye irritation.
  • Graves’ disease is a type of hyperthyroidism; it is an autoimmune disorder that is genetic and estimated to affect 1% of the population.

Research Advancements in Thyroid Disease
Research funded by the ATA over the past 40 years has accomplished the following:

  • Mandatory screening of newborns for congenital hypothyroidism, and early treatment that has prevented mental retardation.
  • Cost-effective methods to detect thyroid cancer by screening the 250,000 thyroid nodules developed in Americans each year.
  • Groundbreaking work in brain development and thyroid hormone function.
  • Promising Graves’ disease genetic research that may lead to improved prognosis and new preventive treatments.
  • An experimental drug that may prove useful for treatment and prevention of eye problems associated with Graves’ disease.

For more information, contact the American Thyroid Association.