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By Kristin Shives
TRICARE Management Activity
January 23, 2012

The American Thyroid Association reports nearly 20 million people in the United States are suffering from some form of thyroid disease, most of them women. January is Thyroid Awareness month, a perfect time to learn about the thyroid gland and problems that can occur.

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck, above the collarbone that wraps around the windpipe. The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is made up of glands that produce, store and release hormones through the bloodstream to direct cell activity. Thyroid hormones have an influence on many body functions including brain development, breathing, heart and nervous system functions, body temperature, muscle strength, skin dryness, menstrual cycles, weight and cholesterol levels.

Most people are unaware of their thyroid unless they’ve suffered from symptoms related to thyroid disease. When there is a problem with the thyroid, the body will use energy more slowly or quickly than it should. There are many causes of thyroid disease, but they typically result in two opposite conditions: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

TRICARE covers clinical preventive services including checks for thyroid cancer for adults with a history of upper body radiation.

Hypothyroidism, the more common condition, is when the thyroid gland is not active enough. Symptoms include gaining weight, feeling tired and having difficulty with cold temperatures. Hyperthyroidism results when the thyroid is too active, producing more thyroid hormone than the body needs. This condition can cause weight loss, rapid heartbeat and sensitivity to heat.

Treatment is available for both conditions, depending on the cause. The purpose of treatment is to bring thyroid hormone levels back to normal, which will typically eliminate the patient’s symptoms. Those who have any of these symptoms or a family history of thyroid disease should speak with their primary care provider to discuss their thyroid health.

To learn more on thyroid diseases and treatments, please visit www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/thyroiddiseases.html. Find out more about what TRICARE covers by visiting, www.tricare.mil/coveredservices.

Sign up for TRICARE e-mail updates at www.tricare.mil/subscriptions.

Connect with TRICARE on Facebook and Twitter at www.facebook.com/tricare and www.twitter.com/tricare.

The TRICARE Management Activity administers the worldwide health care plan for 9.6 million eligible beneficiaries of the uniformed services, retirees and their families.