Ladies, if you have noticed any sudden weight loss or gain, accompanied by fatigue and bowel problems, don’t ignore it. It could signal a thyroid problem, which may have repercussions on your overall health.
“Thyroid disorders are eight to ten times more common in women than in men. This is mainly because most of the times, they are autoimmune problems are all autoimmune disorders are more common in women,” says Dr Sweta Budiyal, consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, Mumbai.
While women with overactive glands (hyperthyroidism) suffer from weight loss, heat intolerance, poor sleep, thirst, excessive sweating, hand tremors, frequent bowel movements, racing of heart, weakness, anxiety and insomnia, individuals with underactive glands (hypothyroidism) face weight gain, lethargy, fatigue, constipation, slow heart rate, sensitivity to cold, dry skin, dull hair, irregular periods and infertility.
As thyroid hormones are vital for the normal functioning of organs, thyroid problems can lead to poor quality of life and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. While hyperthyroidism can cause atrial fibrillation, osteoporosis and fractures, hypothyroidism can (in rare cases) cause Myxedema coma and death.
“The commonest cause of thyroid problems these days is Autoimmune Thyroid Disease (AITD), which can be hereditary. Your immune system produces antibodies which either stimulate the thyroid glands to overproduce hormones, or it causes destruction of glands leading to underproduction of thyroid hormones,” says Dr Budiyal.
With salt iodinization, iodine deficiency is rarely a leading cause for thyroid disorders. “Apart from autoimmunity, thyroid disorders are also increasing because of increased usage of pesticides and plastics,” says Dr Girish Parmar, consultant endocrinologist, Nanavati Super Specialty Hospital.
Other causes could be the congenital hypothyroidism, interference from certain drugs, viral infection of the thyroid gland and problems in the pituitary gland.
Thyroid Nodules (single nodule or multiple nodules) and thyroid cancers are some of the other problems that women may develop, as well as “goiter” which is any enlargement of the thyroid gland.
A CT scan or ultrasound can detect thyroid nodules present with swelling on the lower side of front of neck. A growing neck mass can also indicate thyroid cancer along with difficulty while swallowing or change in voice.
Hypothyroidism is typically treated with substitution of thyroxine in the form of daily tablets, while hyperthyroidism is treated with either anti-thyroid medications (drugs that lower the level of thyroid hormones by blocking their synthesis) or with radioactive iodine.
Thyroid nodules can be just monitored with serial neck sonography, but surgery may be advised when there is suspicion of cancer, or if the nodules are causing pressure on the food or air pipe. Thyroid cancers can be treated with surgery followed by radioactive iodine therapy if needed.
While there aren’t any preventive strategies for thyroid disorders, almost all types of thyroid disorders can be treated effectively. Hence, the key lies in early diagnosis. Dr Parmar suggests a reduction in the use of plastic in day-to-day life to minimise thyroid and other endocrine disorders. “There is no scientific evidence to prove that a particular lifestyle or diet can prevent thyroid problems. But smaller studies have shown that the mineral selenium can act as an immunomodulator and reduce autoimmunity,” says Dr Parmar.