How often have you heard someone ask a friend who has put on a few too many pounds, “have you got your thyroid checked?”. Or maybe it was to someone who was finding it difficult to get pregnant. Is thyroid really the culprit in so many of a woman’s woes? How common is it to develop thyroid problems? Do you have to get your thyroid functions tested?
About The Thyroid Gland
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in the front of the neck that weighs about 30 grams in adults. It has a right and left lobe on either side and a bridge or isthmus connecting the two. The function of the gland is to use iodine and convert it into the two main thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) which regulate the body’s metabolism. The production of these hormones is stimulated by the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which is produced in the brain.
What Could Go Wrong?
- Goitre - This is just a fancy word for an enlargement of the thyroid gland. Needless to say, no one (female or otherwise) would be too happy to have a lump right in front of the neck! A goitre could just be a swelling with no hormonal issues, it could be related to increase or decrease in the thyroid hormones or far more unlikely it could be cancer. Several times goitres are purely physiological, they turn up during puberty or pregnancy and disappear some time after.
- Hyperthyroidism – The thyroid is producing more hormones than it should. Early clues to this maybe – an increased anxiety and fidgetiness in your behaviour. You might find it difficult to fall asleep. You will find yourself eating more but losing weight, and you may be sweating in a room where everyone else seems comfortable. You may have tremors or shakes in your hands and in advanced cases, your eyes may seem like they are popping out of your head (exophthalmos)
- Hypothyroidism – The opposite scenario where the thyroid hormones produced are too less. The result is a lazy and lethargic you. You don’t feel like eating but the numbers on the weighing scale seem to be escalating. You feel cold easily and may also experience hair loss.
So What Tells You To Get Your Thyroid Tested?
- Your appetite and weight – An increase in appetite with a loss of weight, or an increase in weight despite a loss of appetite.
- Your attitude – Are you always anxious and panicky, or always bored and lethargic. It could be more than just your “nature”.
- Your reaction to the weather – If you are sweating even in cold weather (prefer the cold) or if you are chilly in warmer times (prefer the hot).
- Your periods – More frequent periods with more bleeding could be a sign of hypothyroidism, while longer cycles (if you get your periods in 45 days or longer) with less bleeding could mean hyperthyroidism
- Your body – A lump in front of your neck has to be checked out, more urgently if it is associated with a change in voice or difficulty in swallowing. Changes in eyes, sweaty palms and trembling hands are features of hyperthyroidism while swelling around the legs and excessive hair fall are tell tale signs of hypothyroidism .
- Your toilet habits – Diarrhoea or constipation could be indicative of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism respectively.
- Your baby prayers – If you are finding it difficult to conceive or if you have had two or more miscarriages, your thyroid could be to blame. It’s worth checking out.
The Tests Of The Thyroid
In a fasting state check your T3, T4 levels (increased in hyperthyroidism, reduced in hypothyroidism) and TSH levels (reduced in hyperthyroidism and vice versa). If you have a goitre or an abnormality in your thyroid functions tests, an ultrasound scan (usg) of the neck gives a clearer picture. A simple needle test or FNAC will rule out cancer .
Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are easily treatable when diagnosed. Anti thyroid drugs given for 4 to 6 weeks in a dosage of two or three pills a day is the norm for hyperthyroidism while a once a day replacement of the thyroxine helps allay features of hypothyroidism. A goitre may warrant the need for surgery, but it is a relatively straight forward one with few risks in experienced hands.
What you can do?
- Make sure you get enough iodine in your diet either through iodinated salts or fish
- Too much cabbage can actually increase your chances of getting a thyroid swelling!
- Look out for the signs and get your thyroid tested early.
The bad news is that thyroid affects the health of a lot of women. The good news is that every thyroid problem is easily and completely treatable when caught early!