Thyroid disorders are one of the commonest world over, but often underdiagnosed, according to doctors. The butterfly-shaped thyroid gland, situated at the base of Adam's apple, secretes growth hormones needed for development.

The most common problem that tertiary care paediatric hospitals notice is iodine deficiency, according to paediatric endocrinologists. Iodine, a trace element, helps in the secretion of enzymes needed to regulate the body's growth. The human body requires around 25 to 150 microgram of iodine depending on the age group. But lack of iodine causes irreversible damage.

“About 75 per cent of any endocrine statistics in the outpatient department is due to thyroid disorders, ranging from congenital to auto immune disorders,” says P.Venkataraman, retired professor of paediatrics from the Institute of Child Health, Egmore.

The Indian Thyroid Society, which plans various awareness programmes as part of the World Thyroid Day, to be observed on May 25, has urged pregnant women to undergo a thyroid function test.

“People are struggling with obesity, depression, infertility, menopausal symptoms, low libido, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, and many other issues. Yet the majority of Indians have never had a thorough thyroid check-up,” says R.V. Jayakumar, president of the Society. “As a precautionary measure, women should check their thyroid secretion levels,” he adds.

In adult women the deficiency results in infertility or stillbirths. Besides causing a variety of problems to herself, the woman also passes on the disorder to her child. Deficiency or excess production by the gland results in a variety of disorders. Most of them are treatable if diagnosed early.

Thyroid disorders that begin in-utero will result in a child being born with mental retardation. A proper diagnosis will prevent the disorder from affecting the child's development. Simple measures such as using iodised salt will prevent thyroid problems. Dr. Venkataraman says children in rural areas have goitre caused by insufficient iodine, a trace element that the body needs.

In school-going children, the deficiency results in poor scholastic performance, constipation, lethargy, inattention, obesity and short stature. Puberty in such children is delayed and girls suffer from irregular menstrual cycles. However, a keen parent or teacher can identify the problem, according to Dr. Venkataraman.

Doctors say it is necessary to screen newborns as one in 2,500 children suffers from neonatal hypothyroidism (hormone deficiency). Screening expectant mothers would prevent auto immune deficiency from being passed on to the foetus.

Simple blood investigation and early treatment with thyroxine hormone or T4 (it is available as tablets) will prevent mental retardation. Permanent lack of thyroxine due to genetic disease or thyroid dysfunction requires putting the patient on lifelong medication. Thyroxine tablets are safe and excess levels of iodine in the body are eliminated through urine.

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R. SujathaJune 28, 2012

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