January is “Thyroid Awareness Month,” and the physicians at National University of Health Sciences want you to know that this small gland can have a critical impact on your health. But the good news is that people with thyroid conditions can often see a big improvement with or without drugs by incorporating the recommendations of a whole health physician and utilizing natural remedies such as herbal and nutritional supplements in addition to making healthy dietary and lifestyle changes.
The thyroid is in charge of secreting important hormones that help regulate body metabolism, temperature, and a wide range of body functions. The thyroid serves as an important part of the body’s internal communication system between all the major glands.
When the thyroid gland is underactive, people can experience the condition known as “hypothyroidism.” The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary widely, and can develop slowly, often over a number of years. The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism may include:
- Fatigue and sluggishness
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Pale, dry skin and/or brittle fingernails and hair
- A puffy face
- Hoarse voice
- An elevated blood cholesterol level
- Unexplained weight gain
- Pain and stiffness in muscles or joints
- Muscle weakness
- Heavier than normal menstrual periods
Advanced hypothyroidism, known as myxedema, is rare but can be life threatening. Signs and symptoms of myxedema include low blood pressure, decreased breathing, decreased body temperature, unresponsiveness, and even coma or death.
On the other hand, the thyroid gland can be over-active, secreting too much of its hormones. Hyperthyroidism symptoms may include:
- Sudden unexplained weight loss and/or increased appetite
- Anxiety, nervousness or irritability, sweating
- Irregular heartbeat, rapid heartbeat, or heart palpitations
- More frequent bowel movements
- Tremors, especially fine trembling in your hands and fingers
- Changes in menstrual patterns
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- An enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), which may appear as a swelling at the base of your neck
- Fatigue, muscle weakness, difficulty sleeping
Since the symptoms of both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be attributable to many other causes, it’s important to work with a physician to make an accurate diagnosis. For example, medications called “beta blockers” (used to treat high blood pressure and other conditions) can mask the signs of hyperthyroidism.
A full evaluation is required to determine if a thyroid problem is causing the patient’s health problems. The most common form of screening depends on a series of blood tests. A whole health physician will not only take blood tests and evaluate those results, but will also take into account other aspects of a patient’s presentation. Some patients will have lab values within normal limits, but still show signs and symptoms. Being aware of symptoms, looking at body temperatures, and doing a complete physical will help determine a final diagnosis.
Depending on how early either a hypothyroid or hyperthyroid condition is diagnosed, alternative or complementary medicine can be very effective. A physician at one of National University of Health Sciences’ Whole Health Centers would primarily take a look at a patient’s diet and make modifications, adding various supplements and herbs.
“Nutritional changes, supplements and healthy lifestyle changes can be all it takes to treat and resolve some thyroid cases,” says Dr. Anna Jurik, a chiropractic physician and nutritionist at the NUHS Whole Health Center in Lombard. “Other, more severe cases, may require more intervention. In those cases, we refer to and co-manage a patient’s care with their family M.D. or an endocrinologist. Combining both standard medical treatment protocols and natural health protocols can allow a patient to respond faster and with better results than using either component on its own.”
If you would like more information on thyroid health, or would like to schedule an evaluation by a whole health physician, call the NUHS Whole Health Center in Lombard at 1-630-629-9664.