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Feature Article Cold All the Time? It Might Be Your Thyroid

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Dry skin, feeling cold all the time, weight gain, depression, hair loss, swollen fingers and ankles — do any of these complaints sound like you? Or maybe all of them? These are the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Thyroid problems are a common concern for both men and women, but the symptoms are hardly unique.

“The problem with symptoms of thyroid disease is that they are pretty non-specific,” said Sarah J. Swarts, MD, an endocrinologist with Samaritan. “Hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid condition, occurs in less than 5 percent of the population. But because the symptoms are so common, if you get a group of 100 people together who have symptoms of thyroid disease, only about 5 of those tested will have abnormal thyroid lab results. The good news is that these lab tests are generally very accurate for diagnosing thyroid dysfunction.”

According to the American Thyroid Association, women are five to eight times more likely than men to have a thyroid problem and one women in eight will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime. 

“Thyroid disease is more common with aging,” said Swarts. 

So when are your symptoms just a byproduct of winter in the northwest, and when does it mean something more? Dr. Swarts recommends looking at new, unexplained symptoms that persist for more than a month, and then discussing it with your primary care provider. Your provider may order a blood test to check your thyroid levels. 

Generally, thyroid disease is an autoimmune disorder, where your body makes antibodies that cause your thyroid to not work or work too hard. A very small percentage of people have hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid. Treatment for hyperthyroidism is more complex, and those patients usually end up working with an endocrinologist like Swarts to manage their condition. 

“Thyroid disease isn’t something you can prevent, but it is fairly easy to diagnose and manage,” said Swarts. “For most people with hypothyroidism, one pill a day is all you need.”

Ready to learn more? Join Dr. Swarts Nov. 16, 6 p.m., at Samaritan Albany General Hospital for a comprehensive look at your thyroid. Visit samhealth.org/BeHealthy to register.