First: What is a thyroid, exactly?
Many patients don’t know much about thyroid basics, says Alan P. Farwell, MD, chief of the section of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Nutrition, and director of endocrine clinics at Boston Medical Center. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that controls your metabolism. Generally, an overactive thyroid (called hyperthyroidism) could make you feel anxious, shaky, sweaty, and hot, and cause weight loss and trouble sleeping among other symptoms. Conversely, a person with an underactive thyroid (called hypothyroidism) might feel sluggish, fatigued, and cold, and could experience problems including weight gain and constipation. (This strange skin condition could increase your risk for thyroid problems in the future.) While lifestyle habits like daily diet and activity don’t have much impact on thyroid health, there are a number of things you can do to make sure your thyroid stays healthy. Keep an eye out for the 13 silent signs you may have a thyroid problem.
Find out your family historyiStock
“If your family members—mom, dad, siblings—have thyroid disease, you’re much more likely to experience thyroid dysfunction yourself,” says Leonard Wartofsky, MD, MACP, professor of medicine at Georgetown University and past president of the Endocrine Society. For anyone with a family history, it’s especially important to have your thyroid monitored. In an annual physical, for example, your physician will examine your thyroid by touching the neck to feel for a goiter, enlarged thyroid, or nodules. Never ignore these six thyroid cancer symptoms.