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Interview with Dr. Jan Ulbrecht about Hypothyroidism

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Medical Minute - 2:04

Steve Williams: We’re visiting with Dr. Jan Ulbrecht. Dr. Ulbrecht, can you summarize the role of the thyroid?

Jan Ulbrecht: The thyroid is an interesting gland. It’s at the base of the neck and it’s responsible for how fast things happen in the body. The way I usually explain it is I usually compare it to cruise control in the car. You set the cruise control, and everything runs at 55 MPH. Well, every organ in the body – brain, heart, lungs – everything functions at the speed that we think of as normal, because the thyroid tells them to do so.

Steve Williams: What is hypothyroidism?

Jan Ulbrecht: Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid doesn’t send out the right amount of this controlling signal, and so everything in the body starts slowing down. And the best way to think about that – the extreme at least – would be a bear hibernating. In fact, part of hibernating is a very low thyroid hormone level. One of the challenges, though, is that hypothyroidism doesn’t have to be that severe, and at the subtle level, it’s much harder to know what may be going on. So in people who are at high risk, it’s important to get an annual blood test.

Steve Williams: Are certain people at a higher risk of developing hypothyroidism?

Jan Ulbrecht: Hypothyroidism, or thyroid disease in general, is more common among women, it gets more common as we get older, and particularly runs in families. So it is particularly common in somebody who has a family history of this problem.

Steve Williams: Are there any treatment options for those with hypothyroidism?

Jan Ulbrecht: There are various hormones available to replace the missing natural thyroid hormone. But the treatment that we use almost always is simply replacing the main synthetic levothyroxine thyroid hormone. One pill a day restores the levels back to normal and pretty much restores function back to normal.

Steve Williams: Community members can get more information on hypothyroidism at mountnittany.org. Dr. Ulbrecht, thank you for joining us today.


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