Hypothyroidism Statistics and Facts

When it comes to hypothyroidism statistics we know that worldwide it’s estimated there are millions of people who have a thyroid disorder of some type.  Why an estimate?  For several reasons – many experts believe that hypothyroidism, one of the two most common types of thyroid disease, is very under diagnosed and that for every diagnosed case there are many others that remain undiagnosed.   Thyroid disease symptoms are common across a number of unrelated disorders and are often misdiagnosed.  Symptoms are also usually vague in the early stages so may be missed altogether.

Statistically the two most common thyroid conditions are hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid) and hypothyroidism (under active thyroid).

According to statistics available at the time of writing:

  • 27,000,000 individuals in the United States and 200 million globally have a thyroid disorder of some sort
  • Almost 27 million people and counting are believed to have undiagnosed thyroid disorders
  • In the United States every year 37,000 new cases of Graves ‘disease are diagnosed
  • Graves disease affects 1 in 200 people, predominantly women under 40 years of age
  • 80% of the thyroid disease cases are diagnosed as hypothyroidism and 20% as hyperthyroidism
  • Women are 10 times more likely develop hypothyroidism than men
  • Hypothyroidism more commonly affects women over the age of 50
  • 5 to 10% of pregnant and postnatal women develop a thyroid disorder of some sort
  • Almost 20% of people who already have diabetes will develop thyroid problems
  • Nearly 50% of children with a parent who has a thyroid problem may develop thyroid trouble themselves by the age of 40
  • Children born to women with thyroid problems during pregnancy are at significantly greater risk of being born with transient or congenital hypothyroidism
  • Iodine deficiency is the major cause of hypothyroidism world-wide
  • Hashimoto’s disease is the major cause of hypothyroidism in developed countries (90 – 95% of cases)
  • 14 million Americans have diagnosed Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Graves disease is the major cause of hyperthyroidism globally

There are plenty of other statistics available, including some interesting ones about the association of hypothyroidism and ethnicity.

Interesting Questions about Thyroid:

What About Thyroid Cancer?

Are all thyroid lumps cancerous? How common is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid lumps (also called nodules) are growths in or on the thyroid gland. They occur in 4%-7% of the population. A thyroid nodule might cause your voice to become hoarse, or it could make breathing or swallowing difficult. However, it usually produces no symptoms and is discovered incidentally by you or your physician

More than 90% of these lumps are benign (not cancerous) and do not need to be removed. Thyroid cancer is found in only about 15,000 people each year and causes about 1,210 deaths per year. The most common form (papillary cancer) moves very slowly, and treatment is almost always successful when the cancer is detected early. A less common form (follicular cancer) also moves relatively slowly. Two less frequent forms of thyroid cancer (undifferentiated, or anaplastic, and medullary) are more serious.

Who can get thyroid cancer?

Anyone can get thyroid cancer. However, one group in particular has a higher risk: people who have had radiation to the head or neck. From the 1920s to the 1960s, x-ray treatments were used for an enlarged thymus gland, inflamed tonsils and adenoids, ringworm, acne, and many other conditions.

At that time, doctors thought the x-rays were safe. About 1 million Americans received the treatment, and some of these people will get thyroid cancer up to 40 or more years after receiving the treatment. We now know that radiation therapy to the head or neck increases the chance of developing thyroid cancer later in life. (Radioactive iodine treatments and x-rays used for testing do not increase the risk of cancer.)

Others at higher risk include a child or elderly person with a lump (nodule) in the thyroid. If a man has a thyroid nodule, it is more likely to be cancerous than if a woman has one.

What About Nodules?

What are hot and cold nodules?

Thyroid nodules do not function like normal thyroid tissue. A thyroid image (scan) done with a radioactive chemical shows the size, shape, and function of the gland and of thyroid nodules. A nodule that takes up more of the radioactive material than the rest of the gland is called a hot nodule.

A nodule that takes up less radioactive material is a cold nodule. Hot nodules are seldom cancerous, but less than 10% of all nodules are hot. Cold nodules may or may not be cancerous. All lumps should be checked by your doctor.

How do doctors test nodules for cancer?

Your doctor can use several tests to find out whether or not a thyroid lump is cancerous.

  • A thyroid image or scan shows the size, shape, and function of the gland. It uses a tiny amount of a radioactive chemical, usually iodine or technetium, which the thyroid absorbs from the blood. A special camera then creates a picture, showing how much iodine was absorbed by each part of the gland.
  • In needle aspiration biopsy, a small needle is inserted into the nodule in an effort to suck out (aspirate) cells. If the nodule is a fluid-filled cyst, the aspiration often removes some or all of the fluid. If the nodule is solid, several small samples are removed for examination under the microscope. In over 90% of all cases, this testing tells the doctor whether the lump is benign or malignant.
  • Ultrasound uses high-pitch sound waves to find out whether a nodule is solid or filled with fluid. About 10% of lumps are fluid-filled cysts, and they are usually not cancerous. Ultrasound may also detect other nodules that are not easily felt by the doctor. The presence of multiple nodules reduces the likelihood of cancer.

How are nodules treated?

Nodules that are thought to be benign are usually observed at regular intervals. Some patients may be advised to take thyroid hormone pills. In certain instances, the nodule may be surgically removed because of continuing growth, pressure symptoms in the neck, or for cosmetic reasons.

Fluid-filled cysts that come back after several aspirations may need to be removed.

If the testing shows a nodule that is, or might be, malignant (cancerous), your doctor will recommend surgery. (You should discuss special situations, such as pregnancy, with your doctor.) The goal of surgery is to remove as much of the cancerous tissue as possible. If the cancer is found in the early stages when it is still confined to the thyroid gland, the surgery is almost always successful. With papillary cancer, patients usually do well after treatment, even if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck.

The surgeon starts by removing one lobe of the thyroid. This specimen is tested during surgery (frozen section) to tell the surgeon whether it is benign or malignant. If it is malignant, most or all of the thyroid is removed. If the cancer has spread, lymph nodes in the neck may also have to be removed. In addition, in patients with either papillary or follicular cancer, radioactive iodine therapy may be needed six weeks after surgery to destroy any remaining cancerous tissue.

What happens after surgery?

After surgery, patients must stay in the hospital for one to three days. They may also need to take some time off from work (one to two weeks for a desk job; three to four weeks for physical labor). Most patients do not have any trouble speaking or swallowing, and they report minimal pain after the surgery. In patients with thyroid cancer, a scan may be done approximately six weeks after surgery to detect any residual thyroid tissue that needs to be treated with radioactive iodine.

Patients with thyroid cancer will need to take thyroid hormone their entire lives. Some patients who have had a noncancerous nodule removed will also be advised to take thyroid hormone pills. These may prevent new nodules from forming in the remaining portion of the thyroid gland.

Pregnancy & Thyroid Disease

Why are women more likely to get thyroid disease?

In general, women are much more likely than men to become hyperthyroid or hypothyroid and to get Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The reason for this is uncertain.

Women are also more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases. Two of the most common thyroid diseases, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease, are caused by problems with the body’s immune system. Normally, the immune system defends the body against germs and viruses. In autoimmune diseases, the system attacks the body’s own tissues. Diseases of the immune system tend to run in families.

What about thyroid disease and pregnancy?

Hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism can affect a woman’s ability to become pregnant. They may also cause a miscarriage if they are not quickly recognized and properly treated.

Women who become pregnant may not notice signs of thyroid disease because similar symptoms can occur in a normal pregnancy. For example, patients may feel warm, tired, nervous, or shaky. In addition, enlargement of the thyroid (goiter) commonly occurs during pregnancy.

A pregnant woman is treated differently than is a non-pregnant woman or a man. For example, radioactive materials commonly used in diagnosing and treating many thyroid diseases are never used in pregnant women. The timing of a biopsy or surgery for a thyroid nodule and the choice of drugs for hyperthyroidism may be different in a pregnant woman. These issues require careful consultation with your doctor.

What is postpartum thyroiditis?

Postpartum thyroiditis is a temporary form of thyroiditis. It occurs in 5%-9% of women soon after giving birth (postpartum period). The effects are usually mild. However, the disease may recur with future pregnancies.

The symptoms usually last for six to nine months. First, the damaged thyroid gland may release its stored thyroid hormones into the blood, causing hyperthyroidism. During this time, you can develop a goiter, have a fast heart rate, and feel warm or anxious. Then, a few months later, you will either return to normal or become hypothyroid. Hypothyroidism occurs because the thyroid has been damaged and its hormone reserves used up. If this happens, you may feel tired, weak, or cold. The hypothyroidism usually lasts a few months until the thyroid gland completely recovers. Occasionally, the hypothyroidism may be permanent.

How do doctors test for thyroid disease during pregnancy?

As with any disease, it is important that you watch for the early warning signs of thyroid disease. However, only your doctor can tell for sure whether or not you have the disease. Your doctor may examine:

  • your history and physical appearance
  • the amount of thyroid hormones, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), and thyroid antibodies in your blood.

How is thyroid disease treated during pregnancy?

Pregnancy places some limits on the treatments which you can receive, because your doctor must also look out for the safety of your child. A common treatment for hyperthyroidism is radioactive iodine, but it must be avoided by women who are pregnant or nursing a baby. Surgery to remove a goiter or cancer may also be delayed until after the pregnancy. However, needle aspiration biopsy of a thyroid nodule may be safely done during pregnancy.

Treatments which may be used for thyroid disease during pregnancy include:

Postpartum thyroiditis may or may not be treated during the hyperthyroid stage, depending upon its severity. If the patient later becomes hypothyroid, her doctor may prescribe thyroid hormone pills.

Have more questions? Need more answers? Check our Full Thyroid FAQ

What can we glean from these types of hypothyroidism statistics?

Hypothyroidism statistics like these reveal that undiagnosed thyroid problems are a lot more prevalent than people realise.  In fact, one expert believes that 80 – 90% of the population in the US has an underactive thyroid to some degree.

We see that women of post menopausal age are the age and gender group most commonly affected by hypothyroidism, although men and younger women, even children, certainly aren’t immune.  We see that pregnancy carries a risk of developing thyroid problems and we know that this in turn poses risks to the unborn child.

If you love statistics you’ll find more hypothyroidism statistics on sites like this or at the Endocrine Society website.

Donna Morgan

Donna Morgan

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