June is thyroid month here in Canada. The thyroid plays a significant role in your overall health and wellness. But how much do you know about this vital organ?
The thyroid gland plays a vital role in your metabolism, growth, and development. It is also responsible for controlling calcium levels in the blood, alongside the parathyroid gland. Calcium is an essential mineral for the human body, as it is responsible for muscle contraction and nerve conduction.
Taking Care of Your Thyroid
The two important hormones the thyroid produces are triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). To properly synthesize these hormones, iodine is needed. We can obtain iodine from the water we drink and the food we eat. In areas of the world where there is an iodine deficiency, iodine is added to the salt or bread. The Great Lakes area of Canada and the U.S., the Swiss Alps, and Tasmania are three such areas.
In Canada and the U.S., most of the salt we eat is iodized. This ensures our iodine intake is more than adequate. Taking excess amounts of iodine in supplements or foods such as kelp can actually aggravate thyroids and cause complications.
The two main chronic conditions associated with the Thyroid are Hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormones) and Hypothyroidism (not enough thyroid hormones).
The state of normal thyroid function is called euthyroidism. Thyroid dysfunction is relatively common and affects between 1-5% of the population. Thyroid disorders are much more common in women than in men. Because of the widespread use of iodized salt and bread, lack of iodine is no longer a major cause of thyroid disease in Canada as it was some 50 years ago.
“Autoimmune disorders” of the thyroid gland are the most common cause of thyroid dysfunction. These autoimmune disorders are caused by abnormal proteins (called antibodies) and white blood cells, which together stimulate or damage the thyroid gland. Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism) and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, are conditions of this type. Graves’ disease affects about 1% of the population, whereas Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is even more prevalent.
Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism) is due to a unique antibody called “thyroid-stimulating antibody”. It binds to the thyroid and ‘tricks’ it into producing excessive amounts of thyroid hormones and stimulate thyroid growth.
In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, some antibodies bind to substances in the thyroid and cause an immune response. There is an accumulation of white blood cells and inflammation in the thyroid gland. This leads to the destruction of thyroid cells and, eventually, thyroid failure (hypothyroidism). In the beginning, thyroid hormone production decreases. In response to lower thyroid hormone levels, goitre can develop. In the later stages, the goitre can disappear because of the progressive destruction of the thyroid. Despite the presence of inflammation, this is not a painful condition.
Sometimes, thyroid enlargement is restricted to specific parts of the gland; the rest of the organ seeming normal. The most common cause of this is a cyst or nodule, which may be benign or malignant. Thyroid nodules are widespread, increase with age, and most are not cancerous. However, regular assessment to establish the risk of cancer is necessary.
Checking Your Thyroid Health
It’s relatively simple to have your thyroid checked. In most cases, a simple blood test is conducted, and the results are very accurate. Thyroid levels should be verified with annual bloodwork, especially if you have a family history of thyroid disorders. If you or someone you know is taking thyroid medication, they should be checked regular y to ensure they are receiving the right dosages of medicine.
Hertiage College Grads and Thyroid Health
As a student at Heritage College, you will learn about the endocrine system, signs and symptoms of chronic conditions and treatments available. With your education, you will be able to help advocate for your clients’ health.
As Pharmacy Assistants, you can help support your clients by reminding them to ensure they are getting their bloodwork done and visiting their doctor regularly.
As Medical Office Assistants, you may be more directly involved with following up with clients to have them come in and review bloodwork results with their physician. You may also be sending thyroid medication orders to a pharmacy, especially now, with physicians and pharmacies providing contactless visits and prescription renewals.