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Thyroid Disorders: What You Need to Know

The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck region that is responsible for production of thyroid hormone. The thyroid hormone plays a very important role in regulating and controlling many functions in our body systems. This hormone is well distributed throughout the body and can go to the extent of controlling a vast variety of metabolic and circulatory functions. Women have been found to be more prone to disorders of the thyroid than men, more so immediately after child-birth and menopause. It is estimated that one in eight women are susceptible to thyroid disorders during their life.

During the various phases of their life, women experience more hormonal and bodily changes to which the thyroid glands need to adjust. The thyroid glands function as the metabolic pacemaker and balancer for most processes in the body. When the thyroid gland functions normally they support many functions in different body systems. But when there are any thyroid disorders, causing it to produce either too much or too little of the hormone, it adversely affects the entire bodily system functions.

Diagnosis of Thyroid Disorders

Diagnosis usually begins with a health history review of self and immediate family.

Physical examinations usually follow to check for thyroid nodules around the neck region.

Depending on symptoms, further pathological tests may be carried out to ascertain the levels of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) in blood.

Radioactive Iodine Uptake Test: Here a liquid or capsule that contains a small dose of radioiodine is swallowed, which gets collected in the thyroid gland (as thyroid glands use iodine to make the thyroid hormone). High radioiodine levels indicate that the thyroid glands are overactive and produce excess thyroid hormone. Low radioiodine levels indicate that the thyroid glands are underactive and do not produce sufficient thyroid hormone.

Thyroid Scan: Here a liquid or capsule that contains a small dose of radioiodine is swallowed, which gets collected in the thyroid gland. An imaging device takes a scan of the thyroid glands which helps to detect the distribution of iodine uptake by the glands. The scan image helps to detect “hot nodules” (that take up more radioiodine than normal thyroid glands), “warm nodules” (that take up the same amount of radioiodine as normal thyroid glands) and “cold nodules” (that take up less radioiodine than normal thyroid glands).

Thyroid Ultrasound: Here ultrasound waves help to determine the type and size of nodule. Periodic tests can help to check the rate of growth of the nodules.

Thyroid Biopsy: This test is used to check for cancerous cells in the thyroid gland tissues.

Thyroid Disorders and Pregnancy

Most thyroid disorders can cause complications during pregnancy as an imbalance of the thyroid hormone can lead to problems related to ovulation. Hypothyroidism triggers an increase in prolactin (hormone that is responsible for production of breast milk) levels, thereby preventing ovulation.

Thyroid disorders can also be responsible for amenorrhea. Both hyperthyroidism andhypothyroidism are potential major risks to both mother and baby during pregnancy. Hyperthyroidism can be associated with conditions of premature birth (before 39 to 40 weeks), preeclampsia (condition causing hypertension and affecting other internal organs), severe thyroid damage, very fast fetal heart rate, improper fetal weight gain or development and miscarriage. Hypothyroidism can be linked to cases of anemia, preeclampsia, improper fetal weight gain or development, stillbirth and miscarriage.

Thyroid Disorders and Menopause

As such, menopausal women are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Thyroid disorders can further increase this risk and can be life threatening. Due to a similarity in symptoms, thyroid disorders are often mistaken for perimenopausal or menopausal conditions.

Wrapping It Up

Regardless of the age at which the signs and symptoms begin to surface, thyroid disorders, known to affect more women than men, can adversely affect a woman’s health, lifestyle and mood. As we get busier with our lives, it is important that any such alert signs are not ignored or taken for granted and timely medical attention is sought.

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