The thyroid has a big job: The hormones it secretes help regulate heart rate, maintain healthy skin, and play a crucial part in metabolism. When the gland is sluggish (hypothyroidism), it can rob you of energy, dry out your skin, make your joints ache, cause weight gain, and kick-start depression. When it becomes overworked—hyperthyroidism—and produces too much hormone, it can cause racing heart, sleep disturbances, and weight loss.
Given what can go wrong, you may be surprised to hear that about half of the estimated 27 million Americans with thyroid disease remain undiagnosed, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.
Most people with thyroid disease, about 80 percent, have the hypo version. Should symptoms drive you to make a doctor’s appointment, one of the first things your physician will ask is if you have a relative with the disease, since thyroid disease tends to run in families. Your risk also increases as you get older; in addition, being female (the disorder is as much as eight times more common in women), or having another autoimmune disorder such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis can worsen your odds. Depending on your risk profile, your doctor may recommend a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) blood test along with other thyroid blood tests.