The thyroid gland, which is located in the front part of the neck, produces the thyroid hormones(T3 and T4). These hormones are responsible for regulating various metabolic processes in the body. Thyroid disorders are the commonest endocrine disorders. In India, approximately 42 million people suffer from thyroid disorders. Abnormalities in thyroid function (hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism) can be caused due to conditions such as iodine deficiency, thyroid cancer and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Signs and symptoms
When you have thyroid problems, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Heat intolerance: People suffering from a hyperactive thyroid gland are usually intolerant to high temperatures.
- Sleep changes: Excessive production of thyroid hormones may cause insomnia whereas low levels may make you sleep more than usual.
- Hair loss: Thyroid disorders disrupt the hair growth cycle and the imbalance of thyroid hormones makes your hair look thinner and may lead to hair loss.
- Excessive sweating: Increase in the levels of thyroid hormones gear up the metabolism and you may feel unusual sweating.
- Changes in your weight: You may experience weight gain or weight loss if you have thyroid gland disorders.
- Unusual tiredness: An under-active thyroid will make you feel tired very often.
- Menstrual changes: Hormonal imbalances caused due to the thyroid gland disorders lead to excessive or decreased menstrual flow.
- Constipation: You may experience changes in the bowel habits more frequently owing to abnormal thyroid function.
Apart from the above-mentioned symptoms, abnormal thyroid hormone levels may also cause hot flushes, changes in blood sugar levels, poor memory and decreased blood pressure.
Diagnosis of thyroid disorders
If you experience any symptoms of thyroid disorder, consult a doctor. The doctor would discuss your medical history, your family’s health history and would do a detailed physical examination. He would then prescribe certain tests to assess thyroid function.
Thyroid hormone test:
Thyroid test is recommended to find the levels of T3 and T4 (T3- triiodothyronine and T4- thyroxine) and TSH (Thyroid-stimulating hormone) in the blood.
Understand your test results
The following table gives the reference values of thyroid hormone levels.
|Thyroid test||Normal range|
The following table would help you interpret your results:
|T3, T4- normal; TSH –high||Mild hypothyroidism|
|T3, T4- low; TSH- high||Hypothyroidism|
|T3, T4- normal; TSH- Low||Mild hyperthyroidism|
|T3, T4- high; TSH –low||Hyperthyroidism|
Thyroid antibodies: Thyroid antibody tests are prescribed to diagnose autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s disease and to distinguish it from other types of thyroid dysfunction. This test is usually done as a follow up when after abnormal levels of T3, T4 and TSH are obtained.
Ultrasound scan: An ultrasound scan helps to identify the presence of elevated lumps or nodules on the thyroid gland.
Needle biopsy: Needle biopsy may be prescribed for diagnosis of thyroid cancer. In this procedure, a tissue sample is obtained from your thyroid gland and is evaluated to detect cancer.
Other tests: Sometimes, vocal cords are affected due to thyroid tumours. This can be identified by vocal cord examination (laryngoscopy). A thin tube with light and lens is sent through the larynx to examine the thyroid gland.
How to treat thyroid disorders?
- Healthy diet: Including protein, vitamins and mineral rich foods in the diet helps in normalizing the metabolic processes.
- Yoga: Practicing yoga enhances the blood flow to your thyroid gland.
- Contrast Hydrotherapy: It has been proved that by placing warm and cold towels alternately around the thyroid region can stimulate the thyroid function.
- Probiotic foods: Eating probiotic foods such as yogurt, apple cider vinegar improves the overall metabolism in the body.
Medications: The doctor would prescribe anti-thyroid medications.
Radioiodine treatment: Radioiodine therapy is used to treat thyroid cancer. The radiation is used to destroy the thyroid cells i.e. the cancerous growths. This treatment is used to destroy the thyroid tissue that cannot be removed by a surgery.
Surgery: Surgery may be performed to treat hyperthyroidism, in which a part of the thyroid gland is removed. It is also done to maintain the balance of thyroid hormones when the medications fail to control the thyroid hormone production.
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