New Delhi: Glandula thyreoidea, also known as the thyroid gland, has a major role to play in the metabolism, growth, and development of the human body. The organ wrapped around the windpipe is small but controls some vital functions for the body. By consistently releasing a steady amount of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream, the butterfly-shaped organ helps fulfil the body’s energy needs.
When the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones to meet your body’s needs, this condition is known as Hypothyroidism, also called underactive thyroid. Although in the National Family Health Survey V, its prevalence among the population was reportedly 2.9 per cent, several studies suggest that the common endocrine disorder affects one in every ten Indians.
With India completing its transition from iodine deficiency to replete status, as per the Government of India, iodine supplementation can cause a spurt in autoimmune thyroid dysfunction and hypothyroidism by making the thyroid gland more susceptible to damage by the body’s own immune system. Hypothyroidism leads to a variety of symptoms, such as fatigue, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, and depression.
On the occasion of World Thyroid Day, ETHealthworld spoke to the experts to understand more about the most prevalent disorder called hypothyroidism. Although the exact causes of hypothyroidism can vary, the most common cause worldwide, including in India, is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (HT). Other causes may include iodine deficiency, certain medications, previous thyroid surgery, radiation therapy, or congenital factors.
When asked about the prevalence of hypothyroidism changing over the years, Dr Mahesh D M, Consultant, Endocrinology, Aster CMI Hospital, informed that the cases of hypothyroidism have been steadily increasing over the past few years. “It has increased from 7.5 per cent to 10.95 per cent. Adults above the age group of 45–55 years and women are more affected by this autoimmune disorder than men,” he added.
According to Dr Vivek Belde, General Physician, Apollo Clinic , A S Rao Nagar there has been an increment in the prevalence of hypothyroidism getting detected in the younger generation due to a bad lifestyle, stress, and especially a lack of good sleep. Dr Belde emphasised that unhealthy diet choices, consumption of fast food, and a sedentary lifestyle are the prime reasons behind the increased occurrence of metabolic syndrome.
In a study published in the Croatian Medical Journal on iodine deficiency and thyroid disorders, one of the most well-known factors that raises the risk of HT is high iodine intake, with a median urinary iodine concentration of less than 300 g/L, especially in areas with an adequate iodine supply. Another study by Ventura, M., Melo, M., and Carrilho, F., titled “Selenium and Thyroid Disease: From Pathophysiology to Treatment,” published in the International Journal of Endocrinology, suggests low vitamin D levels and low selenium intake are proposed to be potential risk factors for HT development.
Explaining the adverse impacts of hypothyroidism on patients suffering from the disease, Dr Mahesh said that it can lead to “dry skin, constipation, slow metabolism, thinning of hair and eyebrows, menstrual changes, hypertension, and if the condition is unattended, it may lead to a high risk of cardiovascular disease, mental health illnesses, and brain fog.”
Experts suggest that hypothyroidism can significantly affect a person’s quality of life, leading to problems in both personal and professional life. To diagnose hypothyroidism, doctors typically measure thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels in the blood. If the TSH level is elevated and the free thyroxine (T4) level is low, it indicates an underactive thyroid.
“With the advent of healthcare and medical equipment, blood tests are more accurate, and the disease is diagnosed through tests called Thyroid Function Test (TFT), which measures T3 and T4 levels, TSH, Free T4, and Free T3. Further anti-TPO and anti-TG antibodies are done to know about autoimmunity,” elaborated Dr Mahesh.
According to the experts, the treatment for hypothyroidism usually involves lifelong thyroid hormone replacement therapy, where synthetic thyroid hormones such as levothyroxine are prescribed to normalise hormone levels. “From desiccated thyroid to hormonal replacement therapy (T4 and T3 supplements) and the treatment for hypothyroidism, has come a long way,” added Dr Mahesh.
Doctors underline that it’s critical for people with hypothyroidism to frequently check their thyroid hormone levels, take their medications as directed, and seek medical advice for optimum management. A balanced diet and regular exercise can also contribute to a healthy lifestyle, which is advantageous for general wellbeing.
“A joint consideration of TSH along with patient symptoms and a more personalised approach may be required to address the recent surge in patient complaint rates in hypothyroidism,” added Dr Belde, concluding that this will definitely help in successfully treating the patients, getting rid of their symptoms, and giving them a better quality of life.
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