There is still a profound lack of awareness about thyroid health and as a result the need for information is of utmost importance both for the lay person and health care practitioners.
“Thyroid problems are easily confused with other conditions and this can delay essential diagnosis and treatment.” says Francois Smuts, Merck’s Medical Affairs Manager for South East Africa “International Thyroid Week brings to light the importance of understanding the common signs and symptoms of thyroid dysfunction. Beyond this, there is also the aim of educating people about the critical role the thyroid gland plays in our wellbeing.”
What is the Thyroid Gland?
The thyroid is an endocrine gland found in the neck just below the “Adam’s apple”. The thyroid gland produces hormones that are essential for the healthy working of the heart, it controls how quickly the body uses energy and makes proteins and also controls the body’s sensitivity to other hormones.
Thyroid disorders include hyperthyroidism, which is abnormally high thyroid activity, and hypothyroidism, which is abnormally low activity. The signs and symptoms of Hyperthyroidism are protruding eyes, very fast heart rate, trembling hands,hair loss, frequent bowel movements, weight loss, excessive sweating, muscle weakness, unusual sensitivity to heat, increased appetite, thin and very smooth skin and abnormal menstrual periods in women. Hypothyroidism displays symptoms such as fatigue, drowsiness, weakness, not being able to tolerate the cold,weight gain or increased difficulty in losing weight, depression, constipation, thin brittle hair and dry skin.
The physical symptoms of thyroid dysfunction are unpleasant and can affect self-esteem, work, home and family life. More worryingly, if left untreated, thyroid dysfunction can have serious and potentially life-threatening complications. It is also associated with high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels – both significant contributors to heart disease.
Untreated hyperthyroidism may lead to cardiac arrhythmiasor heart attacks. Additionally, in women who have gone through menopause, hyperthyroidism increases the risk of osteoporosis and potentially fatal fractures.
What should you do?
If you are worried that you or a family member may be suffering from or at risk from thyroid disorders, it is important that you speak to or consult with your physician, who will look for symptoms, recommend the appropriate diagnostic test and prescribe any appropriate treatment, or recommend another appropriately qualified physician.
The Importance of Annual TSH Testing
It is also important for people already on thyroid medication to have an annual TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) test as up to 40% of patients are not controlled. Treated patients should aim to have a TSH level of between 0.5 & 2mlU/L. Why is annual TSH testing so important? There are serious medical risks associated with both under and over T4 replacement.
For more information on International Thyroid Week go to www.thyroidweek.com