Depending on who you talk to, anywhere from 22 million to 59 million people have a thyroid condition. I tend to think the truth is that 59 million may even be the conservative number! And whichever number you use, the sad reality is that the majority of people with a thyroid problem don’t even know they have that problem. They haven’t even been diagnosed yet.
Thyroid symptoms tend to be what doctors call “non-specific,” meaning they aren’t necessarily focused in on a particular disease. You get sharp pain in the abdomen near your appendix — that’s a “specific symptom.” But you get fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight changes, and hair loss, and you could be stressed, depressed, hormonal, or have any one of a number of conditions, including thyroid disease. But figuring out what’s going on with you takes time, and costs money, and so if you go to the doctor complaining of these kind of non-specific symptoms, your doctor — guided by HMO and insurance company policy — may send you off not to get your thyroid tested, but instead, with a prescription for an antidepressant, or a recommendation to take up yoga, or the warning that you need to “stop eating so much.”
Some of us — including doctors — still have a sort of cartoon image of what a thyroid patient looks like…you know, the overweight, middle-aged woman, with bulging eyes and a giant goiter! But even though that probably doesn’t describe you (or most thyroid patients for that matter), you could still have a thyroid condition. You could be man in your 20s, or a women in your 30s, and have a thyroid condition. And as you move into middle-aged and beyond, thyroid problems actually do become more common in both genders.
Recognizing suspicious symptoms is the first start for most of us, and I’ll be talking more about this in future posts. In the meantime, you may want to check out an online interactive quiz I created at my About.com thyroid site, Could You Have a Thyroid Problem?