Ramya Kannan

CHENNAI: It is estimated that there are about 45 million diabetics in India. But thanks to the welcome blitz of information about the condition, nearly every one knows that. It is also estimated that there are about 42 million cases of thyroid disorders in the country. If you are not a specialist, it is probably likely you are hearing this for the first time ever.

Let us turn our focus this time on the butterfly shaped gland just below Adam’s apple – the Thyroid. This gland produces two hormones – T3 and T4 – which control the body’s metabolism. These hormones travel throughout the body performing the critical role of telling the body how much energy (derived from food) should be converted to fuel. The thyroid hormones are essential for the proper growth and development of the human body. The Pituitary Gland produces a Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) to regulate secretion of T3 and T4.

Thyroid disorders are supposed to be among the most common medical disorders and could well be camouflaged, undetected in a plethora of symptoms that a specialist would have to search from.

“It often goes undetected as patients themselves do not suspect a thyroid disorder as the cause for a number of symptoms. However, the treating physician must suspect and rule out thyroid disorders before they go on,” says E. Prabhu, nuclear medicine specialist. The range of symptoms include depression, anxiety, marital dispute, loss of initiative; appetite; and memory, disturbed menstrual cycle, intolerance to cold, thickening of the skin and tongue and infertility.

Goitre is among the more commonly recognised thyroid-related conditions, associated with insufficient iodine, in India. Symptoms will have to be confirmed by blood tests that determine the level of hormones in the body.

More prevalent among women rather than men, thyroid disorders are classified as hyper and hypothyroidism. In India, hypothyroidism is more common, with hyperthyroidism reported only in about 5 per cent of the population, Dr. Prabhu says.

In hyperthyroidism, there is excessive production of either T3 and T4, or both or abnormal secretion of TSH. This result in a very high metabolic rate, where the body needs more energy than the food it is consuming can supply. In hypothyroidism, the exact opposite happens as the thyroid secretes insufficient quantities of either T3 or T4, or both and the pituitary, abnormal TSH.

While the underlying causes can be inflammation of the thyroid gland, an over dose of thyroid medication, auto immune diseases and post-pregnancy conditions, R.Ramkumar, a thyroidologist based in Chintadripet, says he increasingly finds that abnormal stress levels are precipitating thyroid disorders in many patients. Increasing urbanisation and the fast pace of life, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, are definitely contributing factors, he adds. While patients with mild disease may not face any symptoms, it is necessary to monitor those with thyroid imbalances, which, if untreated can lead to heart disease, osteoporosis and infertility, endocrinologists say.

Dr. Ramkumar adds that anyone with a family history of thyroid disorders must test oneself, at least over the age of 35. It is possible to have dramatic results with regulated and regular dosage of medicines.

“It is important that patients on thyroid medication conduct regular tests and monitor dosage as it might require changes from time to time,” he says. In some cases, surgery might be recommended.