If you have recently gained weight, are tired, cold, have dry skin, are constipated, or have memory and concentration problems, have your thyroid function checked, suggests Dr. G Vignesh MD, Consultant Endocrinologist and Diabetologist , Dr. Vignesh’s Endocrine and Diabetes Center, Cheats.
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in front of the neck, influences various metabolic (functional) processes in our body by secreting the thyroid hormone called thyroxine.
Common thyroid problems
These include underproduction of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism), overproduction or secretion of thyroid hormones (thyrotoxicosis), swelling of the thyroid (goiter), thyroid tumors and thyroid cancers. The most common thyroid disorders (hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism) are caused by an abnormal immune response by the body against tissues normally present in the body (autoimmunity).
Recent weight gain, prolonged fatigue, feeling cold, dry skin, constipation, or poor memory and concentration are symptoms of hypothyroidism. Additionally, women may have menstrual irregularities (excessive menstrual bleeding) and subfertility, and children may have poor growth and delayed puberty.
Overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism) can cause symptoms such as sudden weight loss, tremors, anxiety, nervousness, palpitations, excessive sweating, increased frequency of bowel movements, and decrease in menstrual bleeding.
For those not on treatment, thyroid function testing (TSH, T4, and T3) can be done at any time of the day without fasting, Dr. Vignesh said.
Treatment of hypothyroidism – how long?
Almost all patients with hypothyroidism may need to continue long-term thyroxine (medication) therapy. Thyroid function should be monitored every 6 to 12 months or more frequently, if needed, as advised by your doctor. The thyroid tablet prescribed for hypothyroidism is nothing but thyroxine, a natural thyroid hormone, which is normally produced by the thyroid gland. Thus, long-term consumption of thyroxine tablets in the correct dosage with periodic monitoring will not cause any side effects.
Treatment of overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism)
To begin with, all patients with hyperthyroidism will need medical management (anti-thyroid medications) to control the overproduction of hormones. Up to 40% of patients can be completely cured by medical treatment alone over a period of 18 to 24 months. Patients not cured by medical treatment will either require definitive treatment – radioactive iodine ablation or surgery, as advised by your treating physician, Dr. Vignesh said.
Iodine and thyroid hormone
Iodine is essential for the normal production of thyroid hormones. A deficiency of iodine in the diet can lead to underproduction of thyroid hormones and swelling of the thyroid gland called goiter. It is therefore important to consume iodized salt. In terms of thyroid function, there is no added benefit to consuming Himalayan rock salt (pink salt) over commonly available iodized salt, Dr. Vignesh said.
Diet in thyroid disorders
Thyroid disorder is not a lifestyle disease, and lifestyle modification like diet, exercise and yoga etc. will not help manage this condition. Thyroid patients can consume a normal diet. As previously thought, no need to restrict cabbage or cauliflower or non-vegetarian foods. There is no need to consume additional dietary supplements or nutraceuticals to treat thyroid disorders.
Thyroid and pregnancy
Maternal thyroxine is essential for fetal brain development, especially during the first three months. Patients with hypothyroidism should continue treatment with thyroxine throughout pregnancy. During pregnancy there will be an increased demand for thyroid hormone and the dose of thyroxine is usually increased during pregnancy based on the thyroid function test. If pregnancy is confirmed, thyroid patients should see their treating endocrinologist as soon as possible for evaluation and treatment modification, Dr. Vignesh said.
Common myths about thyroid disorders in people
*Patients with thyroid (hypothyroidism) cannot lose weight and will remain obese for life, even with proper treatment with thyroxine.
*Thyroid problems are always hereditary.
*All thyroid swellings (goiter) must be operated (regardless of size and histology).
* Long term consumption of thyroid (thyroxine) tablets can affect internal organs like kidney, heart, liver etc.
* Diet modification, yoga and exercise can cure thyroid disorders.