Thursday, April 25, 2024

The underactive thyroid!

This is one area of health that we have not talked a lot about ÔÇô the hormones!
I hope the Greek word that you see in the title won’t disturb. I think you will agree with me that we don’t usually speak this language in this column; it’s only that I failed to get a better term. So I told myself that I shall stop stressing and just use an original Greek term. It’s not really a big word; it’s just a Greek word!
The thyroid is actually a gland and a very important structure in the human body. This is a very small structure found on the front part of the wind pipe, a few centimetres from the Adams apple. This structure was named thyroid in 1656 by Thomas Wharton because it is shaped like an ancient Greek shield.
You and I do have this gland and for sure we need it. It is one structure that needs to function normally; otherwise one would experience certain unexplained and sometimes unbearable signs and symptoms, which can trouble you for years.

What does it do?
If you have ever asked yourself about the most important organs in the body, you probably need to add this gland to your list. This structure absorbs a mineral called iodine that comes with the food we eat. It then produces certain chemicals that drive the engines of body cells to release energy from food. In simple terms, this organ is behind energy release in the body. It is one structure that should come to your mind every time you mention the word ‘energy.’ It can either be over active or underactive!

What happens when it becomes underactive?
A condition where this organ is underactive is called hypothyroidism. It is common in women over 50 years, but can actually affect anyone even pregnant women and children. The normal body processes are affected by this organ’s dysfunction and symptoms are usually non specific. In women, it can cause abnormal periods, miscarriages, premature deliveries and birth defects in babies.

How does an underactive thyroid present?
Generally, the decline in function of this gland tends to show problems over a long period of time. The common symptoms and signs include:
Excessive fatigue
Sluggishness
Unexplained weight gain
Constipation.
High blood cholesterol level.
Low mood, always sad.
Unexplained muscle aches.
Increased sensitivity to cold.
Excessive menstrual periods and infertility.

As one would see, these are very common signs that many other diseases can present with. For that reason, doctors often say the symptoms and signs are unspecific. So you better not panic now! Take it easy, you just need to speak to your doctor if you are worried.

Are there any tests for thyroid problems?
On suspicion that the thyroid could be malfunctioning the doctor may order blood tests, which specifically measure the chemicals produced by this gland. Sometimes this problem may go on for years as one is being treated for other things, only to find out that there is no improvement despite various interventions. It only comes when one doctor can think about the thyroid and only to discover that it is underactive.

Why are we talking about underactive thyroid today?
It can surely go undetected for years because overeating and lack of exercise may be blamed for the unexplained weight, old age for general joint and body aches, lack of fibre and little water intake blamed for constipation, and over working and stress blamed for the excessive fatigue. So as you can see this condition can live with someone presenting with signs commonly associated with known lifestyle habits or other common diseases.

Is there any treatment available?
Once an underactive thyroid is detected, the doctor will put you on special medication that restores the hormonal levels in your body to restore the normal functions. A daily intake of this medication is taken and regular checkups for monitoring purposes are advised. Usually the symptoms are reversed within a few days to few weeks that the treatment is started. One may also notice that the unexplained weight is also responding but this can take time, especially that there are other known causes of weight gain which need to be dealt with.

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