When it comes to winter, many of us become fatigued, feel sluggish, cold and experience dry skin, but what most people don’t know is that these are all also symptoms of hypothyroidism. With January being Thyroid Awareness Month, I was joined by Sofia Vergara’s endocrinologist, UCLA’s School of Medicine’s Dr. Jordan Geller for an interview to discuss hypothyroidism, the most common symptoms, risk factors, treatment options, and how we can all do a simple at-home neck check.
Candace Rose: What is hypothyroidism?
Dr. Jordan Geller: “Well, hypothyroidism is a medical condition where the thyroid gland, which is a small gland on the front of our neck starts to fail, actually. What happens when the thyroid gland fails is patients have a lot of bad symptoms including fatigue, they may have memory impairment, they may feel cold and sluggish. They can start gaining weight for unexplained reasons. A lot of patients experience constipation and they may also notice changes in their skin getting dry, their hair more brittle and their nails as well.”
Candace Rose: Are there any other symptoms that we need to look out for?
Dr. Jordan Geller: “There are other symptoms. Some people tend to get swelling in their feet or puffiness in their hands, they may even notice a yellow discoloration in their hands and thinning of their eyebrows. These are some other symptoms that we sometimes see with hypothyroidism.”
Candace Rose: Who is most at risk for this condition?
Dr. Jordan Geller: “Well, this condition is definitely higher in women. It’s about eight or 10 times higher in woman than men. It’s more common in caucasians, it’s more common in patients who have family members with hypothyroidism. It’s certainly common in people who have had radiation for cancer to their head or neck area because that can damage the thyroid. And then of course in people that have had their thyroid removed surgically are at risk for developing hypothyroidism.”
Candace Rose: How can you conduct a simple at-home neck check?
Dr. Jordan Geller: “Well, the neck check is a great test not for hypothyroidism, but really for thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer. It’s important that people understand the difference because hypothyroidism is diagnosed by a physician using a simple blood test that we get back in about a day. The neck check is really a test to screen for thyroid nodules.
The way this is done is really quite simple (please watch video above for a demonstration) you sit down in front of a mirror with a glass of water, and you take a sip of water and hold it in your mouth. You gently just rest your fingers on your neck right above your collarbone. As you swallow, the thyroid gland will rise up and down under your hands, and you can feel for any nodules, lumps or irregularities in the thyroid gland. If somebody out there does this test and they feel something irregular or they’re just not sure, they should make an appointment to see their doctor. The doctor can examine their thyroid or even order an ultrasound which is a really simple test, but gives us a wealth of information about the thyroid.”
Candace Rose: What are management options?
Dr. Jordan Geller: “Well, the management options for hypothyroidism are to take thyroid hormone, which is a simple that’s very simple to take. It’s typically a once a day pill taken in the morning. It’s usually a lifelong commitment. It’s not a difficult thing to treat, but it definitely requires great communication between the patient and their doctor, so that patients get followed up, they get tested appropriately.
Make sure that you let your doctor know of any other medications you’re taking or if you’ve had any other new health conditions because all of this goes into the dose that we determine to help keep your thyroid in the normal range.”
Candace Rose: Do you have any additional information you’d like to share with us?
Dr. Jordan Geller: “I certainly do. We have a great resource and I’m really proud to be a part of, it’s called FollowTheScriptCampaign.com. On that site not only is there a ton of information about hypothyroidism that I just mentioned, there are checklists that patients can do at home to check boxes and see if they have these symptoms and bring this to their doctor, along with the script that actually tells a patient how to communicate with their doctor about hypothyroidism to make sure that you’re getting tested for it if it’s appropriate and also treated for it.
There’s also videos from real patients who have hypothyroidism sharing their story about how they were diagnosed, how they’re being managed and how they’re doing on thyroid hormone. There’s also a video of the neck check that I just discussed.”