All About The Thyroid With Dr. Jennifer Ashton

Dr. Jennifer Ashton
Health 17 Comments

Dr. Jennifer AshtonBoard-certified OB-GYN, co-host of ABC’s The Revolution, leading women’s health expert, article and book author, television news medical correspondent, philanthropist, wife and mother of two. These are just a few of the impressive titles that identify Dr. Jennifer Ashton. We had the incredible privilege to meet this Woman You Should Know a few weeks ago, when our co-founder taped a segment with her on women’s thyroid health that airs today on The Revolution. A true advocate for women to demand the best for themselves and from their doctors when it comes to their health, Dr. Jen took time out of her unimaginably busy schedule to talk further with us about women’s thyroid health and to answer all of our questions.

Thyroid health is a topic we care deeply about at WYSK as two of us have been personally affected by the sudden onset of different thyroid diseases in our 30s and 40s, respectively. In both cases, the diagnoses were surprising and downright scary, simply because our bodies were inexplicably out of whack and we were clueless about thyroid disease as the cause. It’s an important subject that we find lacks attention and discussion, leaving women without the information and knowledge they deserve and need. This exclusive Q&A with Dr. Jen is our opportunity to cast a much needed spotlight on this curious little gland that is so often ignored or misunderstood, yet is so critical to overall health and wellness. We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Jen for helping us navigate through this relatively uncharted territory for all of our WYSK readers.

WYSK: As a doctor, do you find that most women have no idea what the thyroid is or what it does?

Dr. Jen: YES! I find that the majority of my patients and women in general know very little about the thyroid. Many people don’t know what it is, where it is, what it does. People shouldn’t be ashamed if they don’t know; they should ask their doctor or read about the thyroid online. Think of it like mini-med school.

Woman's Thyroid GlandWYSK: Where is the thyroid, and what does it do?

Dr. Jen: The thyroid is a small endocrine gland, meaning it makes hormones, and is located in the neck, right by the Adam’s apple. It is often referred to as the ‘master gland’ in the body because the hormones it produces, T4 and T3, regulate so many essential bodily functions. These range from our metabolism, to our menstrual cycles, to our moods, to our heart rate, to our GI tract.

WYSK: How does the thyroid affect women’s health?

Dr. Jen: The thyroid plays a key role in women’s health because having an over or under-active thyroid can affect the menstrual cycle and a woman’s fertility or pregnancy. In fact, it is often THE first blood test an Ob-Gyn will do whenever a woman’s periods are irregular (either too frequent or too infrequent). Thyroid problems can be a cause of miscarriage as well and can affect the fetus if not well-managed.

WYSK: What are some of symptoms of thyroid disease that women may encounter?

Dr. Jen: The symptoms of an underactive thyroid (or hypothyroidism) include: weight gain, constipation, feeling cold, depression, dry skin, brittle nails, shortness of breath, elevated blood pressure, absent OR heavy periods, swelling around the eyes. The symptoms of an overactive thyroid (or hyperthyroidism) are basically the opposite of those of hypothyroidism: weight loss, diarrhea, feeling hot/sweaty, anxiety, palpitations, heavy periods or frequent periods, thinning hair, and in some cases, discoloration or swelling of the skin overlying the shins.

WYSK: What about thyroid cancer?

Dr. Jen: This is usually a very curable form of cancer (there are different types of thyroid cancer, but the most common type is very curable). It is more common amongst women than men, and is one of the more common cancers affecting younger women. It is on the rise in the U.S. for reasons we don’t understand, so it is important to know the signs and symptoms. Pain in the neck or throat, hoarseness of the voice, difficulty swallowing, feeling a lump in the neck are all symptoms of thyroid cancer (though obviously don’t always indicate thyroid cancer). If you have these signs or symptoms, your doctor will probably do some blood tests, send you for an ultrasound of your neck/thyroid and possibly refer you for a needle biopsy. Like any cancer, the earlier thyroid cancer is detected, the better the chance for a cure.

WYSK: Does thyroid disease often go undiagnosed because many of the symptoms can be attributed to other things, such as stress?

Dr. Jen: Because these symptoms mimic so many other conditions (or even the normal aging process) the diagnosis can be missed. In fact, of the 27 million Americans with thyroid disease, an estimated 50% do not even know they have it.

WYSK: How many women are affected by thyroid disease?

Dr. Jen: Women are more likely to get thyroid disease and thyroid cancer than are men. In fact, a woman has a 1 in 5 chance of developing thyroid disease in her lifetime, and this is especially common right after pregnancy (affecting as many as 1 in 8 women postpartum) and near menopause.

WYSK: What questions should women ask their doctors about thyroid health?

Dr. Jen: Women should talk to their doctors about getting a simple blood test for thyroid disease and even if that initial test is normal, if she is still having symptoms, I always recommend repeating the blood test and doing a full “thyroid function panel.” There is some belief amongst hormone specialists, known as endocrinologists, that the blood tests can be ‘normal’ but that a slight/mild degree of thyroid dysfunction may still exist. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second or third opinion, and/or to see an endocrinologist.

Meet Woman You Should Know, Dr. Jen:

Dr. Jennifer AshtonOB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Ashton, co-host of ABC’s The Revolution, is a leading women’s health expert who is an advocate for patients, especially women, and helps them demand the best for themselves and from their doctors when it comes to their health and families. Dr. Ashton is passionate about bringing up-to-the-minute medical information that transforms health, saves money and might just save a life.

Dr. Ashton is a Board-certified OB-GYN and is on the attending staff of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center – an affiliate of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine – in Englewood, NJ. Her private medical practice, Hygeia Gynecology, is also located in Englewood, NJ, where she treats women of all ages for both medical and surgical gynecologic conditions such as depression, hypertension and obesity.

A graduate of Columbia College at Columbia University, she went on to receive her medical degree from Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, where she was elected Class President for four consecutive years. Upon graduation, she was awarded the prestigious Bartlestone Award in Pharmacology. Dr. Ashton received her post-graduate training in women’s health and surgery at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. She also served as Administrative Chief Resident and was awarded Chief Resident of the Year upon completing her residency.

Dr. Ashton is a member of the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, as well as a Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She has published articles in peer-review medical journals and presented at national clinical meetings in the fields of general surgery, critical care and gynecologic oncology. She serves on the Board of Trustees of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine, which fosters the training and recognition of compassionate medical care.

Active in many charitable organizations, Dr. Ashton has been recognized for her philanthropic efforts by numerous foundations, including the Girl Scouts, at its Women of Achievement Awards Dinner (2007), and The Octoberwoman Foundation for Breast Cancer Awareness, as the recipient of their Hope for The Future Award (2008). She has also been awarded the Policeman’s Benevolent Association Medal of Honor for providing emergency medical care to injured Englewood police officers during the snow storm of February 2008, and honored by the city of Englewood for heroic service to Haitian earthquake victims.

Most recently Dr. Ashton served as a medical correspondent for CBS News from 2009-2011, and was seen on “The Early Show” and “The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.” She received the prestigious Alfred I. duPont – Columbia University Award for Excellence in Journalism for her work on CBS’ “Children of the Recession” series. In addition, Dr. Ashton has been a regular expert guest on “Dr. Oz” and has appeared on The Learning Channel’s (TLC) “A Baby Story.” From 2006-2009 she appeared on the Fox News Channel as a medical contributor, and was a featured expert guest on XM satellite radio’s “Oprah & Friends” with Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Your Body BeautifulIn January 2010, Dr. Ashton travelled to Haiti with a medical team, where she treated victims of the earthquake for eight days and reported her experience for CBS News.

Her award-winning book, The Body Scoop for Girls (Avery/Penguin), was released in January of 2010 and is a relatable guidebook for teenage health. Her second book, Your Body Beautiful (Avery/Penguin), was released on January 5, 2012 and is a new-age, head-to-toe guide to vitality and beauty for women aged 30 and over.

Part of a family of six other physicians and one nurse, Dr. Ashton resides in New Jersey with her husband, renowned thoracic surgeon Dr. Robert Ashton, and their two children.

  • Anne

    Great article!! AND a great lady!

  • Alice

    Thank you for this post. The information about Thyroid and the biography on Dr. Jen are both astonishing. Dr. Jen is clearly doing some incredible things! For certain I will pick up The Body Scoop for Girls for my teenage niece.

  • GD

    I was diagnosed with the thyroid condition Graves’ Disease at age 34. Other than my doctor, I had no one to talk with about it and the resources I was able to find at the time on the internet were mediocre at best. I was terrified because I had no knowledge, no information. So, I was really happy to see this piece. In my case, luckily, because I listened to my body, we caught the Graves’ relatively early on and after a treatment of daily medication for just shy of a year, I went into what my doctor refers to as “permanent reversal” or remission and I have felt great ever since. Listen to what your body is telling you and find a doctor who will actual listen and help when you know something is not quite right.

  • Alona DiEdwardo

    Sorry to say I hope you will stick to issues in your field of medicine and leave thyroid issues to the Endocrinoloogists. As someone diagnosed with medullary/papillary thyroid cancer I and many of my friends in my situation and worse ones felt your input about a famous celebrity’s cancer diagnosis and treatment was a disservice to many people afflicted with Thyroid issues and Thyroid cancer. Thank you.

    • Sharonah

      I am a Stage 3 Thyroid Cancer Survivor. The fact that you would EVER slight this type of cancer is appalling. Please retract your statements made publicly about it not being ‘life changing’. This type of cancer is totally life changing for soooooooooo many people and also that is DOES kill! Any one of the Thyroid Cancers can turn into the deadly kind if left untreated. My treatment included surgery, Radioactive Iodine and Meds for life (hormones that are very trickly to regulate) and the horrible side effects that can also be for life.
      Please talk to ThyCa patients before you make blanked statements as you did on ABC!
      Thank you,

  • Becky Zufall

    I agree with Alona DiEdwardo. An OB/GYN should not be speaking about Thyroid Disease or Cancer. Let’s leave it to someone that specializes in Endocrinology and not get vague descriptions about symptoms/treatments.

  • Jen Jones

    Alona & Becky – I have to respectfully disagree. Like GD above, I also have Graves’ Disease. My gynecologist was the doctor who first diagnosed me with a thyroid condition. She then sent me to an endocrinologist to get a more specific diagnosis, which turned out to be Graves.

    Several years after my diagnosis, I then developed a thyroid nodule… again, discovered by my gynecologist during a normal gynecological exam. I followed up on her finding with my endocrinologist, who then sent me on to another specialist to do the aspiration I needed on the nodule.

    I call this all GREAT medical team work, not a doctor interfering in an area that they don’t happen to practice 24/7.

    It is my understanding that a manual check of the thyroid is part of a standard gynecological exam… they usually do it as part of the manual breast check (mine does). So, while gynecologists are not endocrine specialists, most need to have basic knowledge of thyroid issues and treatment options. If a gynecologist suspects a thyroid issue, he or she, in sound medical practice, would then send you on to an endocrinologist for a precise diagnosis. For these reasons, gynecologists can be the first line of defense in the discovery of thyroid issues in women.

    Without my gynecologist, my Graves would have likely gone undiagnosed for months, as I continued to suffer from inexplicable weight loss, a dangerously rapid heart rate, shaking hands, and my left eye further protruding out of its socket, among other concerning symptoms.

    I am grateful to my gynecologist and also to Dr. Jennifer Ashton for sharing the knowledge she does have about thyroid disease with us on our site. It’s more information than I ever had prior to being confronted with my condition and that lack of knowledge made my initial diagnosis even scarier.

    • Becky Zufall

      Jen Jones –

      While I completely respect your position on this subject. I agree that General Practitioners and OB/GYN’s need basic knowledge of the Thyroid because most Thyroid issues are found by these types of doctors, my Thyroid issues were found by my GP. However, that does not give this doctor, as someone in the media mainstream, the right to discuss Thyroid Cancer. Nor does it give her the right to dismiss the diagnosis as no big deal OR say that it won’t affect your life at all.

      • Sharonah

        Becky – I couldn’t agree more and I know hundreds who would say the same!

      • Jen Jones

        Fair enough Becky.

        Unfortunately, I’m at a disadvantage in this conversation as I have not seen the recent TV appearance by Dr. Jen that you and others have referenced. I will try to find a clip, so I can have some context.

      • Bill S

        I wholeheartedly agree with Becky’s position on this matter. The Dr.’s comments on this matter were very much out of line (and somewhat offensice to anyone that is living with thyroid cancer such as myself )with the REALITY of thyroid cancer and the way it drastically affects the human body before, during, and after treatment.

  • WYSK

    We would like to thank everyone who has recently shared their views in the comments section of this post.

    However, this is not a vehicle through which to contact Dr. Jennifer Ashton directly. While she was the subject of the February 2012 Women You Should Know interview above, this is not her personal website.

  • Cath

    First of all thyroid cancer is not very curable, it took two surgeries to have my thyroid removed, it has been one year for me since Nov 9-2011 when had first surgery-the second surgery was Feb 2012, I had RAI cancer treatment August 2012 I am not cancer free, I just had another scan this week which shows area left side of my neck is in question, I could be having another surgery and more cancer treatment, I have been battling with hypocalcemia, hypoparathyroidism due to damaged parathyroids as result of surgery, I have supraventricular tachycardia and fluid around my heart stemming from losing my thyroid and parathyroids. An OBGYN has no authority to speak about thyroid disease she paints a false pretty picture as well. Please stop whitewashing thyroid disease and start campaigning to help those adversely affected by thyroid cancer so we can return to some kind of normalcy of life.

  • Ms Stella Pla

    Your article was very informative. Thanks

  • Alona

    My thyroid nodule that ended up being MTC was brought to my attention by my orthopedist who did an MRI of my neck because of an injury. I have no problem with a doctor doing a routine check for these issues like GYN or a GP BUT when it comes to an article written in a voice that has an expert tone to it from someone who is not an expert in that particular field? That is what upsets me! I went back to thank the ortho and he was gracious but when i asked him a few questions would not comment as that was NOT HIS FIELD OF EXPERTISE. I respect that fact and think you need expert opinions from doctors who handle a specific issue. I wouldn’t go to an ortho for GYN issues. Leave thyroid issues to endocrinologists and the surgeons that specifically treat this disorder. Not even an ENT is really qualified to deal with thyroid cancer even though you would think they would be. You need a doctor who only deals with thyroid if you have thyroid CANCER.

  • Alona

    More specifically and maybe what I am trying to say have an expert in thyroid issues/ cancer write articles or give interviews like this one.

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