If you are a woman in your 40s, you may have experienced these symptoms. You feel more tired than usual; you feel puffy when you get up in the morning; you seem to be gaining weight (your finger rings do not fit any more or shoes feel too tight); you have lost your appetite and you suffer from bowel disorders such as constipation. These could be perimenopausal symptoms that usually start when one is aged between 35 and 45. On the other hand, these could be typical symptoms of thyroid problems and one should undergo a check-up to rule it out, says Dr Manoj Chadha, a senior endocrinologist and a consultant at Mumbai-based P.D. Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland lying just below the larynx or the voice box. It keeps the body's metabolic processes humming and produces hormones that take care of our overall well-being. Unlike diabetes and high blood pressure, a thyroid condition is not a lifestyle disease. It is caused by autoimmune thyroiditis, which could be hereditary. In this condition, the body's immune system attacks the thyroid gland by mistake. Such a condition can affect any organ or system as every organ in our body requires thyroid hormones for proper functioning. More women than men are likely to develop these conditions, primarily due to their genetic make-up. According to doctors, eight out of 10 thyroid patients happen to be women. Studies claim about 3-5 per cent of the total population in India suffer from thyroid conditions and the number could go up slightly if subclinical cases (where the disease is dormant) are considered.
One way to check your thyroid health is to do a simple but reliable blood test for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which will cost Rs 300-600. Explaining the variants of thyroid disorder, Dr Chadha says hypothyroidism, a condition when the gland does not produce enough hormones, requires oral medication to ensure adequate hormone levels in the blood. In case of hyperthyroidism, where the gland secretes too much hormone, there are three types of treatment - antithyroid drugs, surgery or thyroidectomy and radioactive iodine, given orally. Sometimes, there are thyroid nodules which do not pose serious health problems, but in rare cases, there could be malignancy or cancer.
Focus On Genetics
Although thyroid cancers are not too common, research in this field mainly focusses on genetics to track risk potential, says Dr Chadha. Early signs may include thyroid nodules or lumps, but only one out of 10 turns out to be cancerous. Diagnosis is mostly done through blood test, ultrasound, CT scan or FNAC (fine-needle aspiration cytology) test, in which a hollow needle is inserted into the nodules or the mass for a sampling of cells as their morphology helps determine whether they are carcinogenic or not. However, a genetic study of the thyroid nodules could help pick up signals for potential malignant cases, and research is going on to find new genetic markers which can identify cases with increasing risk of cancer. Such detection will be extremely helpful as every patient with a thyroid disorder would not be required to undergo surgery.