January is Thyroid Awareness month. The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck around the trachea, or windpipe. Its function is to secrete hormones necessary for many functions in your body, including controlling your metabolism, which is why it can affect your entire body if it’s not performing correctly.

Thyroid disease can affect anyone, no matter their age or gender. Hypothyroidism may be present in newborns, and it may also develop later in life. For instance, post-menopausal women often experience it. Though thyroid disorders affect an estimated 20 million people in the U.S., women are five to 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with one. Other factors include genetics, age, medications, medical conditions, or previous treatment for thyroid conditions or cancer, such as a thyroidectomy or radiation treatments.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include the following: fatigue, weight gain, constipation, depression, weakness, dry skin, muscle aches, brain fog, thinning hair,  and/or hoarseness. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability and an enlarged thyroid are all signs that you need to get checked. For both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, it’s never a good idea to assume that an unusual symptom is something that will just go away.

To diagnose thyroid conditions, your doctor will start with some blood tests to determine your levels of thyroid hormones. Once it’s been determined that your levels are either too low (hypothyroidism) or too high (hyperthyroidism), your doctor may then use other tests to determine the cause. Further testing could be needed depending on the symptoms and conditions.

While hyperthyroidism may be treated with antithyroid drugs, radioactive iodine, beta blockers or surgery, virtually the only option for hypothyroidism is thyroid replacement medications. This may include drugs such as levothyroxine, which is a synthetic hormone that acts in place of the hormones not being produced by the thyroid.

However, adhering to a healthy diet is recommended, since diet and nutrition play a large role in your thyroid’s health. Your thyroid needs protein, magnesium, calcium, iodine and vitamins A, B-complex, and C to stay healthy and function at its peak. Try including fresh, ocean-caught fish from low on the food chain, canned whole sardines, sea vegetables and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. You can also supplement if you find you’re falling short.

Remember that, since a common cause of hypothyroidism is taking selenium while having low iodine levels, it’s important that you keep your diet balanced.

Pseudoephedrine from cold and asthma remedies, caffeine and other alkaloids can also induce symptoms of hyperthyroidism, including rapid heart rate and high blood pressure, and should, therefore, be avoided whenever possible.

To learn more or find a provider, visit intermountainnv.org.