15 January 2022
The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland, is the primary regulator of metabolism and responsible for producing hormones that play a vital role in several body functions. However, awareness about the disease and its diagnosis continues to be considerably low.
To create awareness about thyroid and diseases related to it, January is observed as the Thyroid Awareness Month.
Dr KP Singh, Director, Endocrinology, Fortis Hospital Mohali, gives a detailed insight into thyroid problems and explains how any malfunction in the gland affects bodily functions.
What is Thyroid Gland
The thyroid gland sits low in the throat area and spreads its ‘wings’ on either side of your windpipe. The largest endocrine gland, thyroid primarily secretes two hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine, commonly known as T4 and T3. Secretion of these hormones by the thyroid gland is controlled by Thyroid Stimulating Hormone(TSH), secreted by the pituitary. Thyroid gland increases the metabolism of carbohydrates, fat and protein and decreases body weight. It also increases heart rate and blood pressure. Diseases of the thyroid gland manifest as hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, goitre, cretinism, myxedema, thyroid cancer and rarely thyroid storm.
Thyroid problems are caused by malnourishment due to nutrient deficiencies; excessive intake of caffeine, sugar, or other stimulants; and substances that inhibit the proper functioning of the thyroid, such as hard liquor.
Thyroid problems have been primarily categorized under the following:
1. Gender/Age: Women are 6 to 8 times more likely to develop a thyroid condition than men. Those above 50 years of age are also at a high risk of developing the health condition.
2. Personal history: A personal history of thyroid disease increases one’s current risk for developing the disease. For example, if a woman post pregnancy had postpartum thyroiditis that resolved itself, she could be at an increased risk of developing a thyroid problem again after pregnancy or later in life.
3. Genetic factors: A first-degree female relative (mother, sister, daughter) with a thyroid disease increases the risk of developing the health condition.
Both an overactive and under-active thyroid can interfere in body functions and cause Hashimoto’s disease (hyperthyroidism), which appears as a nodule or a lump in the thyroid gland, and Grave’s disease (hypothyroidism), an auto-immune condition characterised by a smooth goitre, protruding eyes and swelling over the front of the lower leg.
Hyperthyroidism causes symptoms such as weight loss, insomnia, heartbeat palpitations, hand tremors, intolerance to heat, and disturbances in the digestive system. This is treated through drugs and surgery.
Patients with hypothyroidism have difficulty maintaining stable weight. Women suffering from hypothyroidism may experience heavy periods and deep-seated weakness or ‘feeling tired’. They may appear puffy, and have swelling and constipation.
Prevention is better than cure
Early diagnosis of a thyroid problem helps in better management of the health condition. One can prevent the disease through the following ways:
1. Healthy diet: Consuming salads rich in iodine at least twice a week. Include raw asparagus tips, cabbage, avocado, leaf lettuce (not head lettuce), green onions, sweet green peppers, whipped and goat cheese in your diet. Pack in more iodine by adding salmon, if you eat fish.
2. Regular check-up: Ensure to get endocrine glands examined for hormonal balance.
3. Radiation: Avoid excessive exposure to radiation of all kinds.
4. Avoid distilled water: Ensure to limit or avoid distilled water consumption as it can deplete essential minerals from one’s body.
5. Chelated supplements: Use chelated forms of minerals in foodas these areeasily absorbed by the body and help address thyroid problems
A common method to check thyroid problems is to pace a basal thermometer in the armpit for 10 minutes upon waking up in the morning. The thermometer must be calibrated to the tenths of a degree. The normal body temperature range for this test lies between 97.8 and 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit. A reading below the range could indicate low thyroid activity (hypothyroidism), whilst a reading above could mean excess activity (hyperthyroidism). Other diagnostic tests are also available to detect hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.