Is Your Thyroid Making You Sick?

February 15th, 2013

Jumoke Ladapo, MD, family practitioner, Lillington Medical Services

The thyroid gland is located on the front part of your neck below the thyroid cartilage, an area also known as your “Adam’s apple.” This gland produces thyroid hormones, which regulate your body’s metabolism and body energy and help your body work properly.

Diseases of the thyroid gland can result in either production of too much thyroid hormone, which is called overactive thyroid disease or hyperthyroidism, or too little thyroid hormone, also known as underactive thyroid disease or hypothyroidism.  Other thyroid issues may include nodules and/or goiters.  A nodule is any abnormal growth that forms a lump in the thyroid gland, while a goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland that is normally caused by an iodine deficiency. Some nodules can easily be felt, while others can be hidden deep in the thyroid tissue or located very low in the gland, where they are difficult to feel. Although the majority of thyroid nodules are benign (not cancerous), about 10% of nodules do contain cancer. Thyroid cancer is a disease that occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow in your thyroid gland, but it is quite uncommon. Most people who have thyroid cancer receive a good outcome, because the cancer is usually found early, and the treatments work well.

All types of thyroid problems are much more common in women than in men. Symptoms of thyroid problems depend on the age of the person and the exact problem with the thyroid.  Many of my adult patients who suffer from an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) experience fatigue and exhaustion, constipation, a low tolerance to cold temperatures, and even carpal tunnel syndrome (pain at the wrists and numbness of the hands). It can also contribute to high cholesterol.  On the other hand, my patients who have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) often have insomnia, hand tremors and nervousness.Thyroid problems can also occur in children, and their symptoms are similar to those adults experience.  They might also feel excessive fatigue, have slow physical growth, and sometimes do poorly in school.
While there is no known way to prevent hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, most thyroid problems can be managed well if properly diagnosed through a series of blood tests, body scans and/or ultrasounds. As a family practitioner, I encourage you to have a complete physical each year, and let your doctor know if you are experiencing any of the symptoms I’ve mentioned above.  Treatment is available, and improved health is just around the corner.

Living Heart Healthy – Heart Disease

February 15th, 2013

Asif Zia, MD, MPH, FACP; internal medicine, Lillington Medical Services

Many of my patients ask me about heart disease, and they are right to be concerned.  It is the leading cause of adult deaths in the United States, killing nearly 700,000 people each year.  What you may not know is that 51 percent of those people are women.  In fact, one in every eight women ages 45 to 64 has coronary heart disease, and more than 88,000 women in that age bracket will have a heart attack this year.

There are many things you can do to take control of your heart health, but your first priority should be to evaluate your risk for heart disease.  When you recognize your risk factors, you can take steps to manage them.  Some risk factors, such as age and family history, are out of your control. However, when it comes to your lifestyle choices, you have the ability to improve your heart health and reduce your likelihood of getting heart disease.

When evaluating a patient and his/her risk for heart disease, I consider the following factors: Does the patient smoke?  Does the person have high cholesterol and/or diabetes? Is the patient physically inactive, and is he or she over the age of 45?  Does the patient have high blood pressure, and is he or she more than 20 pounds overweight?  If the patient is female, is she postmenopausal?  And finally, does the patient have a family history of heart disease?  As the number of “yes” answers increases, so does a patient’s risk for heart disease.

When it comes to good heart health, I can’t stress enough the importance of eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet.  By lowering your fat and salt intake and increasing the number of fruits and vegetables in your diet, you can significantly lower your blood pressure.  And by adding more fiber to your diet, which is found in barley, oatmeal, legumes such as cooked beans, and produce such as carrots and apples, you can help reduce your blood cholesterol levels.

Finally, you need to move more!  You should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity – like walking – five or more days each week.  Regular physical activity strengthens the heart, lowers blood pressure, and improves the delivery of oxygen throughout your body.

Take control of your heart health and discuss your risk factors with your physician.  It’s the first step on the road to a long, healthy life.