The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits underneath your Adam's apple.

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits underneath your Adam's apple. It produces hormones that regulate your body's metabolism and has a powerful impact on your health and quality of life.

Margo Homeier of Jacksonville found out how important her thyroid was when she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in 1999. "I was cold all the time, had dry skin, I hardly had any hair, my eyebrows were real thin and I hardly had to shave my legs anymore," Margo recalls. "I was tired, I was just so tired. My doctor ordered a blood test and sure enough, I was definitely low on the thyroid."

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists reports that 27 million Americans have overactive or underactive thyroid glands but more than half are undiagnosed. Some studies suggest that as many as 10 percent of women and 3 percent of men have hypothyroidism, a disorder where the thyroid doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone.

Dr. Alan Kelly has many patients who come into the Institute of Diabetes and Endocrinology in Medford and say they're fatigued and want their thyroids checked. "Not all of those patients are low thyroid," he points out. "There are lots of other syndromes that can cause chronic fatigue, everything from chronic fatigue itself, to sleep deprivation, sleep apnea, anemia or just stress and depression in general."

A simple blood test, the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone or TSH, can be enough to diagnose most thyroid disorders. "People come in with weight gain, fatigue, mental fuzziness, cold intolerance, constipation; those are all the characteristic symptoms [of hypothyroidism]," explains Medford Medical Clinic endocrinologist Dr. John Gallen. "Most doctors are very, very good at checking a TSH. It's an excellent starting point and taking a TSH can really rule in or rule out thyroid problems."

Once diagnosed, hypothyroidism can be treated with medication that provides the hormone the body no longer produces.

until they're about 60 or 65," he continues. "And then their metabolism slows down and we have to cut back their dose a little bit or they become hyperthyroid."

Margo found that her medication was stable for a long time, but recently she found the old symptoms of extreme exhaustion, hair loss, and dry, itchy skin reoccurring, so she went back to her doctor. "The endocrinologist said, 'You know what? You're too low and we can make you feel better,'" Margo recalls. "So hey, I go for feel better!"

Margo's medication was increased, then decreased and now she's on a new medication. "The specialist is working to get to a balance. Now I'm just waiting to see if I'm on the right dose and I think I am because I feel better," she says. "I'm not as cold; my skin's not as dry, I actually have to pluck my eyebrows again."

It's been a long journey for Margo, but it's been worth it. "Nobody wants to go through life cold and tired and when you get it right, there's a real difference in how you feel," she says. "If you're feeling really tired and you're just wondering where its coming from and you have some of the other symptoms like the dry skin, you know, go get a blood check. It's not a big deal. It's a relatively easy fix once you get your meds in order. You feel better, I can attest to that."