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Thyroid: An All-Important Gland That Needs To Be Monitored

Do you know around 42 million Indians are victims of Thyroid disorders with 50% of them not even aware of it?

The Thyroid gland, shaped like a butterfly is located at the base of the neck. But as much as the resemblance sounds cute, any sort of dysfunction is enough to complicate your well-being. Wondering why? That's because the Thyroid gland has a say on every organ, tissue, and cell in the body.

The complications start with under or overproduction of Thyroid hormone and many more. This condition is very common and is a reality for almost every third Indian you meet. Yes, you heard it right. But we are not fighting the battle alone. As per American Thyroid Association, about 20 million people in the U.S. have some type of thyroid disorder. And what’s more concerning is that almost 60% are oblivious to their situation just like many of us are.

Undiagnosed Thyroid conditions can impact your life in so many ways. It can hamper your cardiovascular health, lead to infertility, and whatnot. The faster you are aware of your condition, the higher the scope to avoid something serious. Here are some details that can help you deal with your Thyroid issues( if any) effectively.

Thyroid Gland: A Thorough Overview

The Thyroid gland is one of the most pivotal organs in the human body. It is a member of the endocrine system (a network of glands that produce or release hormones). The gland is mostly responsible for maintaining the speed of metabolism. For those unaware, it is the method by which the body converts food into energy. And since every cell requires energy to perform, a competent Thyroid gland is crucial for overall growth and development.

Thyroid Hormones

Here’s a list of hormones that the Thyroid gland makes and secretes.

  • Thyroxine (T4)

  • Triiodothyronine (T3)

  • Reverse triiodothyronine (RT3)

  • Calcitonin

Now you must have heard the term ‘Thyroid hormone’. It is the combination of the main hormones T4 and T3. They are clubbed together because, among the two, Thyroxine is mostly inactive. Once the gland releases T4, it is transformed into T3 which helps in metabolism.

Reverse triiodothyronine (RT3) is produced in fewer amounts. As the name suggests, this hormone mostly helps reverse the effects of T3. As for Calcitonin, it is not incorporated under the name ‘Thyroid hormone’. It does not play much of a part in maintaining the metabolic rate. Instead, it has a separate role in regulating the calcium content in the body.

Functions of the Thyroid Hormones

Besides metabolism duties, the Thyroid hormones are also involved in a wide range of bodily events.

They are:

  • Maintaining your heart rate

  • Effective breathing

  • Digestive process

  • Regulating body temperatures

  • Brain growth

  • Cognitive functioning

  • Skin and bone care

  • Reproduction

What is the Normal Range of Thyroid?

Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is important to keep your thyroid levels in place. It is produced by the anterior pituitary situated at the base of the brain. And works to encourage the production of the Thyroid hormone. So, malfunctioning of TSH has a direct impact on Thyroid hormone content.

The normal level for Thyroid-stimulating hormone is considered to be 0.4 to 4.0 mIU/L in adults. Some research concludes it to be between 0.45 to 2.5 mIU/L though. Also, please note that the body's need for TSH may change as per age, gender, and pregnancy trimester.

As for the normal T4 and T3 levels, they range from 5.0 to 12.0μg/dL and 80-220 ng/dL respectively.

Types of Thyroid Disorders

Any condition that disrupts the Thyroid's normal range deserves attention. The gland can show different abnormalities resulting in that.

Some thyroid-related issues include:

  • Hyperthyroidism - The gland produces excess amounts of Thyroid hormones.

  • Hypothyroidism - The gland cannot make the required amount of hormones.

  • Goiter - The gland gets enlarged.

  • Thyroid nodules - Causes lumps in the gland.

  • Thyroiditis - This leads to inflammation in the gland.

  • Thyroid Cancer

  • Thyroid tumours

Thyroid Symptoms

Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism are the most common Thyroid problems. The symptoms vary as per the condition you are having:

Hyperthyroidism Symptoms

  • Anxiety/ Tension/ Irritation

  • Lack of sleep

  • Weight loss

  • Goiter

  • Weak muscles

  • Vision-related concerns

  • Sensitivity to heat

Hypothyroidism Symptoms

  • Fatigue

  • Weight gain

  • Tendency to forget

  • Dry hair

  • Hoarse voice

  • Sensitivity to cold

  • Body pain

Extra Thyroid Symptoms in Females

Women are more likely to suffer from Thyroid complications than men. So, they experience almost all of the above signs along with a few more.

  • Irregular menstrual cycles (in Hyperthyroidism)

  • Frequent/ heavy menstrual cycles (in Hypothyroidism)

  • Infertility

  • Sexual dysfunction

Extra Thyroid Symptoms in Males

Although women are more vulnerable, Thyroid problems can also occur in male folks. Here are your cues to a possible Thyroid issue:

  • Hair loss

  • Lack of sex drive

  • Low sperm count

  • Erectile dysfunction

  • Delay in ejaculation

  • Muscle mass loss

  • Low testosterone levels

  • Gynecomastia (enlarged male breasts)

Thyroid Causes

Thyroid disease can be influenced by various factors. At times, the issues are present at birth (usually hypothyroidism). They develop as we grow (often post-menopause).

Hyperthyroidism Causes

  • Graves’ Disease (Thyroid gland is overactive)

  • Nodules

  • Thyroiditis

  • Too much Iodine in the body

Hypothyroidism Causes

  • Thyroiditis

  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (autoimmune disease where body cells damage the Thyroid)

  • Postpartum Thyroiditis (Happens to some women after childbirth)

  • Deficiency of Iodine

  • A non-performing Thyroid gland (birth defect)

Thyroid Treatment

The road to normal Thyroid levels is determined by the doctor as per your condition. From Thyroid medicine to surgery, here are some common Thyroid treatment options available.

Hyperthyroidism Treatment

  • Antithyroid medications - Methimazole and propylthiouracil stop the gland from making hormones.

  • Radioactive iodine - This method damages Thyroid cells to prevent high hormone levels.

  • Beta-blockers - They treat symptoms without changing the hormone levels.

  • Surgery - It includes permanent removal of the gland. You need to be on Thyroid replacement drugs for life.

Hypothyroidism Treatment

  • Thyroid replacement medicines- Levothyroxine is a common Thyroid medicine. This man-made drug adds Thyroid hormone to the body and aids you in leading a normal life.

Final Thoughts: When to See A Doctor?

Lack of awareness is a common problem with Thyroid patients. So, if you notice anyone exhibiting Thyroid symptoms, guide them to take proper medical care. However, the following section of people is more at risk than others.

  • Family history of Thyroid disease

  • Have medical conditions like:

  • Type 1 Diabetes

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis,

  • Lupus ( the immune system strikes healthy tissues and organs)

  • Sjögren’s syndrome (Causes dry eyes and mouth)

  • Primary Adrenal Insufficiency (damages adrenal glands)

  • Turner syndrome (a disorder where a girl is born with 1 X chromosome)

  • Over 60 years( mainly in women)

  • Had Thyroid cancer in the past.

Go for a yearly Thyroid test or as recommended by your doctor to ensure early detection.

Stay safe.

Until next week!


The Author : Dr. Sunil Khattri

+91 9811618704

Dr Sunil Khattri MBBS, MS(General Surgery), LLB, is a Medical doctor and is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.

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