Public outreach on thyroid disease advised

AACE & ATA designate January as awareness month

According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists based in Jacksonville, FL, when people's thyroids do not work properly their bodies don't either.

The small, butterfly-shaped gland below the larynx produces hormones that impact the function of many of the body's organs, including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, bones and skin.

That's why the theme for Thyroid Awareness Month designated for January 2009 is "Your Thyroid: A Key to Good Health." AACE and The American Thyroid Association based in Falls Church, VA, are co-sponsors of this national campaign to target 27 million Americans living with a thyroid condition. According to these organizations, thyroid disease is more common than diabetes or heart disease. More than half of those people with an underactive or overactive thyroid remain undiagnosed.

The association wants health care institutions "to help people understand the effects of the thyroid throughout all aspects of life: conception, birth, adolescence and adulthood."

"Many people with thyroid disease are often undiagnosed for years," says Jeffrey Garber, MD, FACP, FACE, chief of endocrinology at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston, MA, and president-elect of the AACE.

That's because people with symptoms of hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, or overactive thyroid called hyperthyroidism can often attribute their cause to something else that is happening in their life. For example, fatigue might be due to job stress.

Through public awareness, ATA and AACE are hoping to prompt people to ask their physician to test for thyroid disease when certain symptoms and risk factors are present.

The AACE reports that women are more likely to have a thyroid disease than men. Age is a factor, as well. People are also at greater risk if they are Caucasian, have a family history of autoimmune thyroid diseases, eat an iodine-deficient diet, smoke, or take medications with high levels of iodine.

Hypothyroidism is more common in people over age 60 and steadily increases with age, especially among women. Symptoms that signal hypothyroidism include: fatigue, forgetfulness, depression, heavy menses, dry, coarse hair, mood swings, weight gain, hoarse voice, dry, coarse skin and constipation.

Common symptoms for hyperthyroidism according to the AACE include: heat intolerance, sweating, weight loss, alterations in appetite, frequent bowel movements, fatigue and muscle weakness, menstrual disturbance, impaired fertility, mental disturbances, sleep disturbances, tremors, and thyroid enlargement.

"Being aware of the risk and the symptoms, that combination gives you a fairly good shot at what the odds are that the test will prove something or show something," says Garber.

Awareness key during pregnancy

The AACE also recommends that women who want to become pregnant understand the impact the thyroid has on the health of the baby. Because thyroid hormone is necessary for the normal brain development of the child, all pregnant women should take a prenatal vitamin with iodine. In this way the mother can be sure there is enough iodine to produce fetal and maternal thyroid hormone.

Due to the fact that thyroid hormone is critical for brain development in the baby and a fetus depends on the mother's hormone until he or she can produce it, women with hypothyroidism need to be under treatment. Also, pregnant women should be aware they could develop hypothyroidism during pregnancy. During the first trimester, women with untreated hypothyroidism are at the greatest risk for miscarriage.

Women with hyperthyroidism must undergo a closely monitored treatment during pregnancy for it can cause stillbirth, premature birth, or low birth weight for the baby.

To help get the word out about thyroid disease, the AACE has created an interactive web site for Thyroid Awareness Month. It has information about hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer. The web site has a "Neck Check," the "Top 10 Things You Should Know about Your Thyroid," and a list of the "Things Every Mother Should Know," which is an educational sheet for pregnant women. This information can be accessed at www.thyroidawareness.com.

[Editor's note: Jeffrey R. Garber, MD, wrote a book with Sandra Sardella White titled "The Harvard Medical School Guide to Overcoming Thyroid Problems" published by McGraw-Hill.]

SOURCE

For more information about Thyroid Awareness Month, contact:

• Bryan Campbell, Director of Public & Media Relations, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, 245 Riverside Ave., Suite 200, Jacksonville, FL 32202. Telephone: (904) 353-7878. E-mail: bcampbell@aace.com.

Or Greg Willis, PR Coordinator, AACE. Telephone: (904) 353-7878. E-mail: gwillis@aace.com.