The thyroid is a small gland located at the base of the neck. It produces two important hormones called T3 and T4 which regulate several important functions in the body.
A thyroid disorder is a medical condition caused by malfunction of the thyroid gland. According to the Thyroid Foundation of Canada, thyroid affects about 200 million people globally.
It is estimated that 42 million people in India suffer from various forms of thyroid disease. Women are more likely to develop thyroid disorders which can include hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroid nodules, thyroiditis and thyroid cancer. With changing lifestyles, more and more young women (<30 years) are being diagnosed with thyroid problems. In 2012, 298,000 new cases of thyroid cancer were diagnosed in women worldwide (GLOBOCAN 2012 v1.0, Cancer Incidence and Mortality Worldwide)
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland makes more hormones than required by the body while in hypothyroidism; it produces less than the required amount of hormones. All thyroid disorders cause hormonal imbalance in the body, affecting metabolism, heart rate and several other vital processes.
Diagnosis of Thyroid disorders
The thyroid gland needs iodine to produce hormones. Excess or deficiency of iodine in the body is one of the primary causes of thyroid malfunction. Thyroid disorders can go undetected for a long time as symptoms of thyroid malfunction are usually misunderstood as common health problems. Here are top ten signs that you may have a thyroid problem:
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- Unexplained hair loss and skin changes
- Trembling in hands or feet
- Frequent constipation (hypothyroidism) or diarrhea (hyperthyroidism)
- Irregular menstruation
- Swelling in the neck region
- Weakness of limbs and muscle pain
- Cholesterol imbalance
- Excessive fatigue and anxiety
Thyroid malfunction is diagnosed through blood tests that measure the level of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) in the body. Other tests include radioactive iodine uptake test which determines the level of thyroid hormones, thyroid scan and thyroid ultrasound.
Thyroid disorders and pregnancy
Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism have been known to cause problems in conceiving. Additionally, pregnant women with untreated thyroid disorder can experience the following complications during pregnancy.
- High blood pressure
- Premature labor
- Low birth weight
- Poor fetal development
- Excessive bleeding after delivery
Thyroid and Infertility
Thyroid can cause infertility in both men and women. In women low level of thyroid hormone affects ovulation and may lead to premature menopause. Since normal TSH levels are a pre-requisite for fertilization, infertility treatment in women having thyroid requires correction of the fluctuating levels of thyroid hormones.
With the right treatment, thyroid should not pose a serious difficulty in conceiving.
Hyperthyroidism is treated with anti-thyroid medication which suppresses the production of thyroid hormones. In some patients radiotherapy or surgical removal of the thyroid gland may be required. Hypothyroidism is treated with thyroxine (T4) tablets to make up for the low levels of the hormone. Some patients may require long term hormone replacement therapy. The endocrinologist determines which treatment is best suited for the patient.
Thyroid cancer, which is the most common type of endocrine cancer today, is treated with surgery, radioactive iodine treatment or chemotherapy.
Preventing Thyroid Disorders
Maintaining a healthy thyroid can help diminish your risk of developing a thyroid disorder. Here are some tips:
- Avoid smoking as cigarette smoke contains thiocyanate, a toxin linked to thyroid disease.
- Ensure adequate intake of iodine in your diet. Some food sources include iodized salt, eggs, low fat dairy products, shellfish and salt water fish.
- Foods known to lower thyroid function: cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, cabbage, corn, peanuts and spinach.
- Exercise everyday as it helps to boost thyroid function.
- Maintain healthy insulin levels as high insulin can lead to thyroid resistance.
- If you are taking HRT, ask your doctor to check for excess estrogen levels, as it may cause an imbalance in thyroid hormones.
- Avoid long term consumption of soy foods as it has been linked to thyroid malfunction.