The thyroid is a small gland responsible for producing hormones that play a crucial role in many of the body’s systems — from cells and tissues, to organs like the heart, brain, liver, and kidneys. Dysfunction occurs when the thyroid produces either too much or too little thyroid hormone. Either can disrupt healthy functioning of vital organs — leading to a wide range of symptoms. The good news? Once diagnosed and treated, it’s entirely possible to live a normal, healthy life.
Thyroid Awareness Month timeline
American Thyroid Association was founded
The ATA is dedicated to the advancement, understanding, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of thyroid disorders and thyroid cancer. It's an international organization with over 1,600 members from 43 countries.
Publication reported on the need for iodine in thyroid function
David Marine, an American pathologist, published a paper stating that iodine is necessary for thyroid function. He is also remembered for his groundbreaking study on a large group of schoolgirls between 1917 and 1922, proving that iodine is effective at reducing goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland).
Courtois discovered iodine
French chemist Bernard Courtois discovered iodine by oxidizing burned seaweed with sulfuric acid. Iodine would later become an important weapon in the treatment of many types of thyroid dysfunction.
First anatomic description and illustration of the thyroid gland
Brussels-born Andreas Vesalius provided the first anatomic description and illustration of the thyroid gland. Vesalius was a 16th-century Flemish anatomist, physician, and author of one of the most influential books on human anatomy. He is often referred to as the founder of modern human anatomy.
- 2700 BC
Seaweed used for treatment of goiter in China
Emperor Shen Nung’s prescriptions mentioned the use of seaweed for the treatment of goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland).
How to Observe Thyroid Awareness Month
Take the thyroid neck check
Have a hand-held mirror and a glass of water handy. With the mirror in your hand, focus on the lower front area of your neck, above the collarbone, and below the voice box (larynx). This is where your thyroid gland is located. While focusing on this area, tip your head back, take a drink of water, and swallow. As you swallow, look at your neck. Check for any bulges or protrusions. (Don’t confuse the Adam’s apple with the thyroid gland.) If you do see any bulges, see your physician. You may have an enlarged thyroid gland or a thyroid nodule.
Encourage friends and family to get tested
If a family member or a friend has mentioned feeling cold a lot of the time, having trouble sleeping, or difficulty swallowing, maybe it's time to suggest they ask their doctor about thyroid dysfunction. It's all too easy to dismiss "little" issues like dry skin as being insignificant, but testing could help them find treatment quicker.
Make a donation
It's likely that you know someone who has been (or will be) impacted by thyroid dysfunction, even if it hasn't directly affected you. Celebrate your good health by making a donation to one of the many research or treatment institutions; there are most likely some in your area that would be very appreciative of your support.
5 Reasons To Check Your Thyroid
It's a small gland with a major impact
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at base of the neck that produces thyroid hormones; these influence how all other cells, tissues, and organs function.
Thyroid dysfunction can have hundreds of possible symptoms
Symptoms vary widely and diagnosis can be difficult, so keeping detailed records will be a significant help to your doctor.
It affects millions in the U.S. alone
It's estimated that over 30 million Americans have thyroid dysfunction, yet at least half of these cases are undiagnosed and, consequently, untreated.
Anyone can be affected by thyroid dysfunction
Although women are five times more likely to develop thyroid problems than men, it can happen to anyone.
Diagnosis is the key
Good news: With a proper diagnosis, thyroid dysfunction can be successfully treated so you can enjoy a healthy lifestyle.
Why Thyroid Awareness Month is Important
It emphasizes the vital purpose of the thyroid
The thyroid can seem a bit mysterious, but in reality, it's simply a small endocrine gland at the base of the neck. However, the thyroid produces hormones important to the healthy functioning of major organs, as well as virtually every cell of the body. When it's producing either too much or too little of these hormones, other body systems can get out of balance, leading to problems ranging from dry skin to decreased vision.
It encourages us to get tested
Diagnoses can be accomplished with simple blood tests. There are literally hundreds of possible symptoms, but the most common are cold hands and feet, dry skin, and unexplained weight gain. All of these can indicate hypothyroidism (not enough hormone being produced). Conversely, diarrhea and unexplained weight loss can be a sign of hyperthyroidism (too much hormone). If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, this is the perfect time to ask your doctor if you should be tested.
It promotes early treatment
Even if we have no symptoms, we should know the possible signs of trouble, so that we can seek medical advice sooner rather than later. And if you are diagnosed with thyroid dysfunction, getting treatment now means a much greater likelihood of living a healthy life.