From the Spring 2012 StayHealthy publication
If you're noticing an unusual amount of hair in your comb, on your pillow or around your bathroom, a thyroid problem could be the root of your problem, says Geraldine Feria, MD, with Wanatah Primary Care. Approximately 27 million Americans have thyroid disorders, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and as many as half of these patients are undiagnosed.
What is your thyroid and what does it do?
Your thyroid is a small bowtie-shaped gland, located in your neck, behind and below the Adam's apple area. "Your thyroid is involved in almost every metabolic function of your body, so an underactive or overactive thyroid can alter your weight, your digestion, your heart rate, your brain function and more," says Feria. "Lots of body processes rely on the thyroid to stimulate them. That's why it's so important to maintain a healthy thyroid."
The hair loss connection
"Hair loss can be a sign of thyroid disorder, when the hair loss is unusual or accompanied by other symptoms," says Feria. She points out that hereditary hair loss is not always considered unusual. "For instance, look at Prince William. Because his father's hair has receded, it's not unusual to see it in him as well," she says. "Hair loss is very individual. They say we can expect to lose between 100 and 300 hairs per day, but who is counting? They key is if you see that you're losing more than normal. Is there visible thinning? Can you explain it by something you're doing, such as pulling your hair back tightly or a medication you're taking?"
Other symptoms of thyroid disorders
Though thinning hair can be the only symptom of a thyroid problem, it's often accompanied by other symptoms, such as changes in weight, mood or bowel habits, says Feria. The most common types of thyroid problems are:
Hyperthyroidism- the thyroid makes more hormones than the body needs. Symptoms include weight loss, rapid or irregular heartbeat, anxiety, irritability, trouble sleeping, trembling, frequent bowel movements, blurry vision, and an increased sensitivity to heat.
Hypothyroidism- the thyroid does not make enough hormones. Symptoms include weight gain, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, muscle weakness, depression, fatigue, memory loss and pale/dry skin. In addition to these symptoms, people with hypothyroidism may have high blood levels of LDL cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease.
"See your doctor if you're seeing a combination of symptoms and definitely if you experience any swelling of the throat area around the thyroid," says Feria.
Visit the Porter Health System website
814 LaPorte Avenue
Valparaiso, IN 46383
The Good News
The good news about thyroid problems is that they're easy to diagnose and easy to treat, says Feria. A simple blood test reveals the problem and medication is available to treat thyroid disorders. "Thyroid problems are fairly common and even more so in women. They're often under diagnosed because people think it's normal to be constipated or tired or cold. In my practice, about one or two of every 10 patients we test for thyroid problems ends up needing treatment which can end their symptoms," says Feria.
"The other good news is that if a thyroid problem is causing you to lose hair, the hair will grow back once you're properly treated," says Feria. Treatment is often done in stages with a doctor monitoring levels along the way. "Often patients are looking for a simple way to lose weight. It's important to know that stimulating your thyroid is only done to correct an underactive thyroid. While this can lead to some weight loss, thyroid medicine is not a diet pill," says Feria. "You can't simply stimulate your metabolism as a way to lose weight. Too much hormone leads to other problems, like more hair loss, a racing heart or even heart failure. Thyroid medication is not a way to lose weight, but a way to restore health," she says.
Dr. Feria is a Member of the Medical Staff at Porter. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Feria, call 219.733.2755.