The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped, hormone-producing gland that regulates the body functions. It lies in front of the windpipe below your Adam’s apple. The thyroid has two side lobes, connected by a bridge (isthmus) in the middle. While it is in normal size, it can’t be felt.
Thyroid hormones act throughout the body, influencing metabolism, our body temperature, and growth and development. For an infant, adequate thyroid hormone is crucial for brain development.
Affecting population worldwide, the devastating disorders can arise when our thyroid produces too much hormone (hyperthyroidism) or not enough (hypothyroidism). Thyroid problems are more common in women than in men. Cancer may also develop in the thyroid gland.
A study on the global epidemiology of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism by Thyrocare publication indicates
· Around 2% of the general population have thyroid disorders
· Four out of five cases are women
· Hypothyroidism during pregnancy can lead to effects on newborn children
When the thyroid gland is overactive, the condition is called hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is less common in men & affects about 1 percent of women.
There are different causes of hyperthyroidism. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease.
It was named for the doctor who first described it more than 150 years ago. It’s the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the United States, affecting about 1 in 200 people.
In this condition, the immune system produces an antibody that stimulates the entire thyroid gland; this leads to overactivity and higher levels of thyroid hormones.
Another form of hyperthyroidism is called a toxic nodular goiter. Abnormal nodules of tissue in the thyroid produce thyroid hormones constantly even when they are not needed.
Another possible cause of hyperthyroidism is thyroiditis. The thyroid gland becomes inflamed. Depending on the type, this may lead to temporary hyperthyroidism that might be followed by hypothyroidism.
Excessive thyroid hormone production causes symptoms such as:
brittle hair and nails
bulging eyes (in Graves’ disease)
How can we diagnose and treat Hyperthyroidism?
A blood test measures levels of thyroid hormone (thyroxine, or T4) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in our blood. The pituitary gland releases TSH to stimulate the thyroid to produce its hormones. The levels of high thyroxine and low TSH indicate that your thyroid gland is overactive.
The doctor might also give radioactive iodine by mouth or as an injection, and then measure how much of it your thyroid gland takes up.
Treatments for hyperthyroidism usually destroy the thyroid gland or block it from producing its hormones. Taking a radioactive iodine pill by mouth in large doses also pulls in the thyroid gland, which damages the gland. Surgical removal of the thyroid gland, called a thyroidectomy, is sometimes necessary. If the radioactive iodine treatment or surgery destroys your thyroid gland, you will develop hypothyroidism and it requires to take thyroid hormone daily.
The opposite of hyperthyroidism is hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland can’t produce enough of its hormones and is underactive. Most cases of hypothyroidism are mild.
A common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition where the body generates antibodies that destroy parts of the thyroid gland. Surgical removal and certain medications can also cause hypothyroidism. Treatment for hyperthyroidism can cause hypothyroidism as well.
Other causes of hypothyroidism include pituitary problems, hypothalamus problems, and iodine deficiency.
Low levels of thyroid hormone production lead to symptoms such as:
slow heart rate
increased sensitivity to cold
How can we diagnose and treat Hypothyroidism?
Blood tests are done to measure your TSH and thyroid hormone levels. A high TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) level and low thyroxine level could indicate that your thyroid is underactive. These levels could also indicate that your pituitary gland is releasing more TSH to try to stimulate the thyroid gland to make its hormone.
The main treatment for hypothyroidism is taking thyroid hormone pills. It’s important to take the dose right because taking too much thyroid hormone can cause symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
Children can also get thyroid conditions, including hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, thyroid nodules, or cancer. Some babies are born with hypothyroidism – this is called congenital hypothyroidism. In other cases, surgery, disease, or treatment for another condition causes it. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to attend to these disorders.
Prevention tips for thyroid disorders
Stop smoking because the toxins make the thyroid gland over sensitive and lead to disorders of the thyroid
Reduce stress as it is one of the major contributors to health problems including thyroid diseases
Avoid processed food and soy as chemicals can alter hormone production
In the US, the American Thyroid Association (ATA) researches cost-effective methods of detection and funds to screen thyroid disorders of more than 250,000 cases each year.
The Indian Thyroid Society has launched a campaign, 'MITA - Making India Thyroid Aware,' in partnership with Abbott India, to drive awareness amongst doctors and patients for early diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disorders amongst women in the age group of 25 to 45 years. Abbott, Indian Thyroid Society (ITS), and The Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India(FOGSI) target to educate physicians and gynaecologists, through digital, print, and in-clinic initiatives.
All in all, medication and few lifestyle changes can support to manage disorders. But it is also important for us to take preventive health check-ups to keep an eye on our body’s nutrient levels. A healthy diet and regular physical activity are the simplest measures for a healthy living.