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  • Writer's pictureLorna Fedelem, MD

Thyroid awareness

January is Thyroid Awareness Month and according to the American Thyroid Association, approximately 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid cancer. It is important to discuss because 60% of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.

What is the thyroid and what is its function?

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in the lower front of the neck. The role of the thyroid is to make thyroid hormones. These hormones are secreted into the blood and then carried throughout the body. The thyroid controls the body’s metabolism, increases heart rate, and affects how fast things move through the body such as food, bone loss, and sugar. It is thought to be the most important endocrine organ!

Thyroid facts:

  • Women are five to eight times more likely than men to experience thyroid problems.

  • One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime.

  • The cause of thyroid problems is largely unknown.

  • Cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, and infertility are serious conditions that can occur if thyroid disease goes undiagnosed.

  • It is important for pregnant women to be diagnosed and treated adequately. If not, risks include miscarriage, preterm delivery, and severe developmental problems in their children.

  • Most thyroid diseases are life-long and can be managed with proper medical attention.

  • Thyroid nodules are very common and are present in 60-70% of middle-aged women.

  • Most thyroid cancers respond to treatment, but a small percentage can be very aggressive.

Early warning signs of thyroid problems:

  • Overactive thyroid: Racing heart rate, palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, nervousness, weight loss with increased appetite, excessive sweating/heat intolerance, muscle weakness.

  • Underactive thyroid: fatigue/sluggishness (mental and physical), cold intolerance, constipation, hair loss, weight gain, depression.

Signs of thyroid nodules/cancer:

  • An unusual lump or swelling in the neck.

  • Other warning signs include hoarseness, swollen glands, and a new persistent cough.

Screenings for thyroid dysfunction:

There are blood tests used to measure thyroid hormones but not all are useful in all situations. The following are tests used to evaluate thyroid function.

  • TSH tests measure the TSH level in the blood which is the best way to initially test thyroid function. Changes in TSH can serve as an early warning before levels become too high or too low.

  • T4 tests measure T4 which is the main form of thyroid hormone circulating in the blood. Levels help determine if a patient has hypo or hyperthyroidism.

  • T3 tests are useful to diagnose hyperthyroidism. People who have hyperthyroidism will have an elevated T3 level.

  • Free T3 tests measure free T3 but they are often unreliable and not typically helpful.

Diagnosing and Treating a Thyroid Condition:

We have a variety of ways to diagnose and treat thyroid conditions. Your doctor can order tests like ultrasounds to screen for these types of disorders, and if an abnormality is found sometimes medication alone can treat the problem. In some cases, a biopsy and/or surgery are needed. The good news is the earlier a thyroid problem is detected, the sooner you can start treatment and get to feeling better!

When talking to your doctor:

  • Be honest and upfront about your symptoms. Do not feel embarrassed!

  • Write down your questions and concerns and bring them to your appointment.

  • If possible, bring a family member or close friend. Sometimes it helps to have two sets of ears when hearing from your doctor.

  • Take notes so you can look them over later.

  • Learn how to access your records, get test results, and a list of your medications. Many of these things can be found electronically.

Call your doctor today to schedule an appointment. Early detection and treatment are key!


Call and schedule a complimentary meet and greet with Dr. Fedelem.

9150 Galleria Ct., Suite 200, Naples, FL 34109 | 239.580.6390


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