The month of January is the Thyroid awareness month. As a specialist treating people with thyroid illness, I hope to give an overview of the thyroid gland and its illnesses through this blog.
Thyroid gland is a small but a very hardworking gland which is tucked away, below the adam’s apple in front of our neck. I would describe it as the body’s accelerator which tells your body how fast it should work. Hence even minor changes in its function can affect one’s health in various ways.
I am certain that anyone reading this blog, know someone having a thyroid illness. Did you know that nearly 1 in 10 people in India have a thyroid illness? It makes one wonder why has this condition become so common. My patients always question me whether is it “too much cabbage in their diet” or “too little salt causing iodine deficieny” leading to thyroid illness. The answer is neither but the exact reason for this surge in thyroid illness is not entirely certain. We do know that most thyroid problems are autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune disease is an illness caused by malfunction of our body’s immunity, (which I would describe as our body’s police force) leading to our own glands being attacked and destroyed by our immune system. There are many theories to reason the rise in thyroid illness. Chemicals and toxins in the environment, genetics (family history), Radiation exposure and viral infections are all thought to be contributing factors. Stress is also considered a factor. In fact a very interesting find, was that thyroid disorders had doubled over a period of 5yrs after a civil war in the country, Czechoslovakia which one could only attribute to stress. As the cause of thyroid illness is not certain, there is little one can do to prevent the condition apart from leading a stress free life. Hence your mantra should be “Don’t Worry be Happy.”
How could one know if they have a thyroid illness? Symptoms of thyroid illness is variable and depends on age, gender and the severity of thyroid illness. Thyroid illness is most common in middle aged women though it can occur in men too and at all ages. I see patients presenting to me with weight problems, constipation or diarrhoea, problems with periods, unable to conceive, mood changes, skin and hair problems, high cholesterol levels or with a swelling in their neck. I also see many getting to know about their thyroid problem on a routine blood test such as done for insurance purpose or a general health check. As symptoms for thyroid disease are not very specific, patients often go to other specialists. I recently had a patient go up to the Psychiatrist with depression but later found to have an under-active thyroid and there was another patient going the cardiologist with a fast heart beat and after several tests was found to have a overactive thyroid. Thyroid illness is diagnosed with a blood test which is now readily available in most labs. The test can be take anytime of the day and can be done before or after food. Some thyroid conditions need special scans such ultrasound or technetium scans for more accurate diagnosis. In case of thyroid swelling we often use fine-needle aspiration (FNAC) test to diagnose the nature of thyroid swelling.
Thyroid disorders are usually long term illness and may need lifelong treatment. Most conditions can be treated with tablets which have minimal or no side effects. It may take a few days to a few weeks and some blood tests to get the dosage right. Some conditions need radioiodine, a special kind of x-ray treatment and in a few, surgery. There are several patients who opt for alternative therapies such as ayurveda and homeopathy and my only recommendation is to ensure that the doctor you are seeing is a qualified professional. People with thyroid disorders can lead a normal life without any long term health problems as long as they are taking their tablets regularly and get regular reviews with the doctor which is often just once a year.