01/25/2016 04:44 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2017

Thyroid or Treats: What's Really Preventing You From Losing Weight via Getty Images

Have you been eating healthy, avoiding sugar, going to the gym but still struggling to lose weight? If that's the case, you might want to think about getting your thyroid checked. Your thyroid plays an important part in regulating your metabolism and can affect your ability to lose weight. So, if you find yourself struggling to squeeze into your favorite pair of jeans despite following your New Year's resolution, stop thinking it's' your fault and instead find out if something else might be going on with that small butterfly-shaped gland in front of your windpipe.

Patients often seem surprised when I say there might be something wrong with their thyroid. Thyroid disease is actually a lot more common than you may think. In fact, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, and more than half are unaware of it. And if you're a woman -pay close attention: Women are actually eight times more likely to have thyroid problems than men. And if you're a woman over the age of 60? Your chances almost triple compared to your younger counterparts.

Your thyroid can be overactive or underactive. An underactive thyroid - known as hypothyroidism --- may make it difficult to drop a dress size, but problems losing weight isn't the only symptom. There are several other important symptoms to be aware of. What should you be on the lookout for? In addition to the commonly associated weight gain, thinning hair can be a noticeable sign - and one that is often ignored. If you are also constantly tired, groggy, constipated, or develop a hoarsening voice, it might be a sign your thyroid is underactive. Sometimes you might feel cold when other people don't - maybe you are always putting on a sweater or turning the thermostat up? If you only have some or if you have none of these signs, but have a family history of an autoimmune or thyroid disease, it is just as important for you to have your thyroid checked out.

It's actually quite simple to detect thyroid disease with a blood test. But you and your doctor need to be considering it, since thyroid tests are not usually ordered as a routine test. I've had several patients tell me that they didn't have any problems with their thyroid because their doctor would have told them already. Please don't assume that. Thyroid tests are not typically part of a regular or annual visit.

The good news is that thyroid disease can usually be diagnosed with one simple blood test And sometimes it is just one test, known as the TSH test. The TSH test measures the amount of thyroid hormone the pituitary is secreting. It is the most accurate test for diagnosing both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Without going into a physiology lesson, there is a negative feedback loop between the thyroid and our pituitary. Generally, a below-normal level of TSH suggests hyperthyroidism. An abnormally high TSH level suggests hypothyroidism.

If you think you may be one of the several millions with undiagnosed thyroid disease, it is important you follow up and get it checked out. Leaving hypothyroidism untreated isn't just about tipping the scales the wrong direction, but also about your long-term health and well-being. Extended periods of hypothyroidism can lead to high cholesterol, osteoporosis, heart problems, and even infertility. The thyroid gland is a small gland but a powerful one. Please make sure it is working properly.