Top 10 Thyroid Myths Debunked: All About Thyroid Health

Although thyroid conditions are fairly common, there are still many misconceptions about its causes and treatment.

Despite its humble size, the thyroid is one of the most vital glands in the body. Located in the neck around the windpipe, it releases hormones that help oxygen enter the cells. It is the most important component of metabolism regulation; when it is functioning improperly, the entire body is affected. Over activity of the thyroid results in hyperthyroidism and under activity causes hypothyroidism. Both conditions can wreak havoc on a person's health if they go untreated. Thyroid disorders are very common, with 27 million cases in America alone, but there are many commonly believed myths about them. If you have been diagnosed or are curious about the causes, treatments, and side effects of thyroid disorders, it is important to understand the ten most common misconceptions surrounding them.

Myth #1: Thyroid conditions are contagious.

Fact: It is easy to understand how this myth has developed, as people in close proximity to one another often develop thyroid conditions. However, it is not possible for the disease to spread from person to person like the common cold because it is not a virus. It is often inherited, passing from mother to daughter. Also, in areas where iodine consumption is insufficient, hypothyroidism is widespread. This is because iodine is necessary for proper thyroid function; it combines with amino acids in the gland to make the hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). Exposure to radiation can also lead to an under active thyroid, so communities may all seem to "catch" hypothyroidism after recovering from radiation sickness.

Myth #2: People with hypothyroidism cannot lose weight.

Fact: It is true that an under active thyroid often causes weight gain. However, body weight can easily return to normal once the condition has been treated and the thyroid is functioning properly again. The main reason that many hypothyroid sufferers keep their excess weight after they have recovered has to do with changes in activity. The condition causes fatigue, so that patients have no energy to exert towards exercise. Upon recovery, these people may continue to lead a sedentary lifestyle, thus retaining the pounds they gained during their illness.

Myth #3: Only senior citizens have thyroid problems.

Fact: Once people reach sixty years of age, they are twenty percent more likely to develop a thyroid problem. However, there are no age groups that are prone to these conditions. Infants, teenagers, and middle-aged people of all races and genders are susceptible. Faulty genes are hereditary, especially favoring women. Furthermore, the hormone changes associated with the postpartum period and the beginning of menopause make women susceptible. It is recommended that everyone be tested every five years, especially if he or she exhibits symptoms of an improperly functioning thyroid.

Myth #4: People with hyperthyroidism cannot gain weight.

Fact: Like the myth about hypothyroidism, this belief has foundations in truth. Weight loss is a classic symptom of an overactive thyroid. Still, many sufferers do not exhibit this side effect, especially the elderly. For those that do experience excessive weight loss, they can expect to return to a healthy weight once the condition is treated.

Myth #5: Thyroid conditions are simple to identify.

Fact: For some sufferers, this is true. For instance, in poor or uneducated areas where iodine is not readily available, it is an easy matter to supply the missing nutrient. Unfortunately, there are subtle degrees of thyroid conditions that go undetected by traditional tests. In these cases, doctors must rely on the patient's description of symptoms to make a diagnosis.

Myth #6: Thyroid conditions are easy to treat.

Fact: Although this is also true on occasion, treatment for hypothyroidism is often trial and error. If a patient does not respond to daily synthetic T3 medication, they may have to take a T4 substitute as well to experience relief. For those with hyperthyroidism, either surgical removal of the gland or its destruction through radiation therapy is usually necessary.

Myth #7: People with thyroid conditions have to take medications for life.

Fact: Although patients whose thyroids have been destroyed or removed will have to receive hormone therapy for life, there are several conditions that can be treated with temporary medication. Patients whose thyroids only briefly function improperly (because of postpartum or subacute thyroiditis, for instance) can eventually be taken off medications.

Myth #8: If you do not have any symptoms, you do not have a thyroid condition.

Fact: A staggering ten million Americans are believed to suffer from undiagnosed thyroid conditions. They may not suffer any side effects, but the condition could still put them at risk for serious medical problems like high cholesterol and heart disease. Taking the sensitive TSH test is the only way some patients can discover the improper hormone levels that their thyroid produces.

Myth #9: Everyone with a thyroid problem experiences bulging eyes or goiters.

Fact: Other symptoms usually lead patients to seek medical help before the condition progresses this far.

Myth #10: People with thyroid conditions have to deal with the side effects that medication does not fix.

Fact: The constant fatigue, hair loss, and sexual side effects of an improperly functioning thyroid should subside once treatment begins. If you find that you are not feeling any better if you are on medication, consult your doctor or an endocrinologist for alternative treatments.

Thyroid conditions are complicated illnesses with potentially serious side effects. Those who suffer from them should be vigilant about receiving proper healthcare. With the help of knowledgeable doctors, malfunctioning thyroids can be treated so that sufferers can live normal lives again.

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