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New Campaign to Heighten Awareness of Thyroid Disease

13 million Americans affected by the disease

THURSDAY, Jan. 17, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- More than three quarters of the American population doesn't know that thyroid disease runs in families, according to a new survey.

And more than half (56 percent) of those surveyed also have never been tested for thyroid disease.

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists disclosed the findings this week as it launched a new educational campaign called "The Neck's Generation: Thyroid Genealogy." The campaign is designed to encourage Americans to discuss the disease with their families and get screened, and it also coincides with Thyroid Awareness Month, which is January.

Thyroid disease is common -- 13 million Americans are affected, about half of them undiagnosed -- and there's a powerful argument in support of screening, health experts say.

"The good news about thyroid disease is that it's easily diagnosed and easily and cost-effectively treated," says Dr. Hossein Gharib, AACE president-elect and a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located just below the Adam's apple. It produces hormones that affect virtually every organ, tissue and cell in the body. If thyroid disease is left untreated, it can lead to elevated cholesterol levels, osteoporosis, infertility, depression, and, in extreme cases, coma or death, the AACE says.

And women are five-to-eight times more likely than men to suffer from a thyroid condition.

The most common types of thyroid disease are hypothyroidism (under-activity of the thyroid gland), hyperthyroidism (over-activity of the gland), and thyroid cancer.

Diagnosis is normally done with a blood test to measure TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), which is manufactured by the pituitary gland and sent to the thyroid gland to tell it how much thyroid hormone to make. High levels of TSH usually indicate that your body is not producing enough thyroid hormone.

Treatment for most thyroid disorders consists of taking levothyroxine sodium or thyroxin pills. Thyroxin is the generic name for a drug that comes with a number of different brand names. These drugs are essentially synthetic versions of what a healthy body would produce normally, sort of a substitute.

The AACE survey found that many Americans were also ignorant of other aspects of thyroid disease. For instance, 79 percent did not know of the link between diabetes and thyroid disease, 90 percent were unaware that people with arthritis may be at increased risk for thyroid disease, and 85 percent didn't know there was a link between anemia and thyroid disease.

On the other hand, the majority of respondents did seem familiar with symptoms of thyroid disease, with 70 percent correctly identifying weight gain or loss and 62 percent correctly identifying fatigue. Only 40 percent, however, knew that changes in hair, skin and nails were associated with thyroid disorder, and only 37 percent knew it was linked with depression.

What to Do: Visit the American Association for Clinical Endocrinologists for more information on thyroid disease, including step-by-step instructions on how to perform the "Neck Check" self-exam. Or try the Thyroid Society.

SOURCES: Interviews with Hossein Gharib, M.D., AACE president-elect and professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn; Wanda Rockwell, thyroid patient, New Jersey
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