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Thyroid problems can cause body to be out of sync

Sun City Summerlin residents were treated to a talk Jan. 14 by Dr. Fariba Rahnema. She discussed how the thyroid hormone helps the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles and other organs working as they should.

The topic proved to be one of interest to the retirement community, as nearly all 60 seats were taken. One attendee, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Paula, said she was there because she has thyroid issues. It causes her to be tired on occasion and, more alarming, to have weight problems.

“It keeps going up,” she said. “I’ve gained 10 pounds in the last five years.”

Another attendee, Mary Ellen Bourgeois, was scheduled for a thyroid scan.

“Anything I can learn about the thyroid before I have my scan next week, I will be more than happy to learn,” she said. “I have a nodule on my thyroid, so they have to go in and see about that. It’s scary. Any time there’s a nodule anywhere, it’s scary. This one has been there a while, and it seems to be betting larger.”

The thyroid gland is located at the base of the front of the neck below the larynx (or voice box). It absorbs iodine from the blood and produces two hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine. It plays an important role in regulating body metabolism. Many people have a thyroid gland that cannot make enough thyroid hormone for the body’s needs. This is called hypothyroidism.

As an endocrinologist, Rahnema said she keeps up with the latest research. What fascinates her most about the things we’re learning about the thyroid?

“The most struggling issue we have is about hyperthyroid and eye disease,” she said. “We have a lot of people who suffer from hyperthyroidism, (which causes) the protrusion of eye tissue. There’s a lot of research, and we’re about to have new medication.”

Nearly all of the symptoms from thyroid eye disease arise as a result of swollen tissue around the eye. Eye watering, redness, light sensitivity (photophobia), eyelid swelling and retraction of the eyelid are typical early symptoms, according to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. It can lead to Graves’ disease.

“The other area that we all struggle with, as endocrinologists, is how we can make people feel good,” Rahnema said. “The thyroid has to be perfect, or you’re not feeling good. There’s a lot of research into looking at adding T3 (triiodothyronine).”

She said those who have had cancer or nodules requiring surgery may not produce enough T3, one of the hormones that the gland produces.

How do you know if you have thyroid issues? Typical symptoms of hyperthyroidism include fatigue, fast heartbeat, sweating, weight issues, an intolerance for heat, thinning and brittle hair, shaky hands and changes in bowel movements. Hypothyroidism may also cause irritability, and weak muscles, especially in the upper arms and thighs.

Thyroid disease symptoms are different in older people than in younger adults and children. Adults will usually present with just one or two symptoms. Younger people may have five or six.

Although the Sun City audience was ages 55 or older, Rahnema included a warning for young women, saying it was vital that women who may become pregnant have their thyroid checked.

“It’s very critical before even conceiving,” she said. “The first eight weeks of pregnancy are so crucial … the thyroid controls our metabolism; every aspect of our lives — physical to mental — is under the control of the thyroid.”

The thyroid produces three hormones: TSH, T3 and T4. A blood test helps doctors know your T3 and T4 levels.

However, TSH is not a clear indicator of what’s wrong. Why?

“TSH is a hormone that can fluctuate every few minutes,” Rahnema said. “If I check it 20 times, every time, it’ll be a different number.”

Our output of hormones from the thyroid changes as we age.

“As we get older, we need less thyroid hormone; as we get older, we need less testosterone, less growth hormone,” Rahnema said. “… As good as it could be, thyroid hormone therapy, it could be dangerous.”

She said it could increase one’s heart rate and possibly lead to a stroke.

“Ultrasound looks for abnormal thyroid growth,” Rahnema said. “We call it thyroid nodules. It’s very, very common; you see it more in females. … You don’t need to get really excited about thyroid nodules unless you’ve had radiation for cancer or a family history of thyroid cancer.”

When taking one’s thyroid mediation, it is important to take it on an empty stomach, then wait 30 minutes before eating.

Visit thyroid.org.

— To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949

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