Do you know everything you need to know about your thyroid?

Understanding your thyroid and how it works is important to your health. The small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the throat is a powerful hormonal engine, and when it isn’t functioning optimally, the consequences can be disabling – even fatal.

Thyroid hormones affect our metabolism, our body temperature and our cholesterol levels. Interacting with other hormones, they also influence our mental, emotional and physical stress responses, our mood and our growth and weight. Almost all the cells in the body have receptors for thyroid hormones.

In Canada, thyroid disease affects one in 10 – about 2.5 million adults - 50% of whom are undiagnosed. Women are affected more than men, and thyroid disease increases as we age. About 1 in 1,700 children have congenital hypothyroidism. Each year, an estimated 4,600 women and 1,400 men are diagnosed with thyroid cancer. With early diagnosis, the prognosis for these patients is 98% survival at five years. Treatment of thyroid cancer often includes partial or full surgical removal of the gland, meaning that these patients may require medication (synthetic thyroid hormone supplementation) after treatment.

In addition to cancer, there are many types of thyroid disease, including the following:

Click through to read a detailed summary of each disorder and its symptoms at the Thyroid Foundation of Canada website.

·Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

·Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)

·Graves' eye disease

·Thyroiditis (Hashimoto's, postpartum)


Hypothyroidism is the most common form of thyroid disease, a disorder in which the thyroid does not produce enough of these essential hormones. Symptoms may include fatigue, depressed mood, lethargy, weakness, weight gain, poor appetite, joint and muscle pain, hair loss and dry skin. The risk of hypothyroidism increases with age and affects 21% of women and 16% of men over the age of 74.

In the elderly, hypothyroidism manifests differently than in younger individuals, with symptoms that may include memory loss and confusion, constipation or incontinence, and poor physical coordination possibly leading to falls.

Throughout life, the consequences of untreated thyroid disease can be severe, from delayed development in newborns to fertility and pregnancy issues in women to multi-organ failure in the elderly. Thyroid tests are therefore recommended at birth, at age 35 and then every five years.

If you suspect you have symptoms, talk to your doctor. Your pharmacist can work with you and your doctors to develop an effective treatment plan.

As risk increases with age, many Canadians living with thyroid disease also have other chronic conditions, making it more challenging for them to manage their treatment.

Read: Financial burdens for Canadians with chronic and complex diseases.

Express Scripts Canada® research shows that, with support from a proactive pharmacy team, individuals with multiple chronic conditions are better able to stay on track with their treatments and avoid complications and side effects.

It is of particular importance that people taking thyroid medication be mindful of potential drug interactions – other prescription drugs, supplements, over the counter medications and even some foods can have an impact on health outcomes. Your pharmacist can provide the information you need.

Read: Are the supplements you’re taking helping or harming your health

Pharmacy services such as full medication reviews when a new drug is prescribed, refill reminders and free delivery of medicines can all make it much easier for people with thyroid disease to manage their health and live life to its fullest.