What Black Communities Should Know About Thyroid Disorders
January is Thyroid Awareness Month, and although it may be lesser known among medical concerns, thyroid health is important to learn about, particularly for women and African Americans. The thyroid gland (located in the neck) helps to regulate metabolism, and its function affects all cells in the body. Disorders related to this gland can have major health complications, especially for at-risk groups. Here’s why it’s so essential that members of Black communities monitor their thyroid health carefully.
The Danger of Undiagnosed Disorders
Over 12% of all Americans will develop a thyroid disorder at some point in their lives, and 60% of those who have one are unaware of it. Symptoms can include depression or mood changes, eye problems, fatigue, memory challenges, sleep deprivation, and excessive weight gain or loss, all of which can contribute to a low quality of life. When they are undiagnosed and untreated, these disorders can lead to cardiovascular illness or disease, osteoporosis (brittle bones), and infertility.
African Americans Are at Greater Risk
African Americans are at a greater risk of negative health outcomes with regard to both thyroid disease and other wellness factors because of the following:
- African Americans are at a higher risk for anaplastic thyroid cancer—an aggressive form of cancer—than other racial groups.
- Women over age 60 and people with illnesses like pernicious anemia and Type 1 diabetes are the groups most likely to develop a thyroid disorder, as are people with a family history of thyroid disease. In particular, Black individuals are more likely than White people to develop Graves’ disease, an autoimmune thyroid condition.
- Thyroid tumors in Black communities are frequently diagnosed at a far later stage than they are among other ethnicities.
- Left untreated, thyroid disease can require surgery. Black patients have a higher rate of related post-surgery complications, including neck hematomas (blood pooling), recurrent laryngeal nerve injury (damage to the “voice box”), and more. In order to take advantage of less invasive treatments for thyroid disorders (like medication), African Americans should ask their doctor to screen them for thyroid conditions.
- African Americans face greater systemic barriers to healthcare than their White counterparts, which can hinder their ability to get screened or treated early. Examples of these barriers include low incomes, lack of employer-sponsored health insurance, racist bias among healthcare providers, lack of familial or social supports (particularly for single mothers), and more.
National Thyroid Awareness Month is an opportunity to educate yourself and others, get screened for thyroid disorders, and take action to address the impact of thyroid disease on Black communities. Because this month is followed by Black History Month, it’s also an excellent time to learn about other health inequities that Black populations face and support efforts to improve medical and wellness outcomes for these communities.
A Good Prescription for the Health of Black Americans
The African American Wellness Project (AAWP) was formed in 2002 to respond to inequities in the healthcare delivery system and is dedicated to health equity and better health outcomes for people of color. African Americans suffer from health conditions at a disproportionately higher rate than other ethnic groups, and we believe these health disparities will continue to exist if we don’t take action.
AAWP serves as a trusted megaphone and provides culturally relevant tools, resources, information, and programming that encourage African Americans to advocate for themselves and protect their health, regardless of insurance status or other circumstances.
Check out our website, follow us on social media, consider making a donation, and join us in our important mission!