Am I at risk of de­vel­op­ing thy­roid dis­or­ders?

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omen are more likely than men to de­velop thy­roid dis­or­ders, yet many cases here go un­di­ag­nosed ev­ery year. Be­cause their symptoms, such as weight fluc­tu­a­tion, in­som­nia, fa­tigue and mood swings are seem­ingly harm­less, many women as­sume that th­ese are a re­sult of life­style choices and not be­cause of a med­i­cal con­di­tion.

The thy­roid gland is a but­ter­fly­shaped gland lo­cated at the base of the neck, and it is re­spon­si­ble for pro­duc­ing thy­roid hor­mones. Th­ese hor­mones reg­u­late our me­tab­o­lism and other bod­ily func­tions.

“Thy­roid prob­lems de­velop when there is ab­nor­mal func­tion – over­ac­tiv­ity or un­der­ac­tiv­ity – or ab­nor­mal growth of the gland,” says Dr Chng Chiaw Ling, a con­sul­tant from the Depart­ment of En­docrinol­ogy at Sin­ga­pore Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal. Too much hor­mones will cause our me­tab­o­lism to go into over­drive, ac­cel­er­at­ing our nor­mal bod­ily func­tions. Too lit­tle, and our bod­ily pro­cesses slow down.

Save for their un­pleas­ant ef­fects, most thy­roid dis­or­ders are not life-threat­en­ing, but could lead to se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions such as heart and brain prob­lems if left un­treated. Early di­ag­no­sis and prompt treat­ment, usu­ally with med­i­ca­tion, can quickly and ef­fec­tively bring the con­di­tion un­der con­trol.

What are the tell­tale signs of com­mon thy­roid dis­or­ders ex­pe­ri­enced by women?

Graves’ dis­ease and Hashimoto’s dis­ease are two com­mon au­toim­mune thy­roid con­di­tions af­fect­ing women. “An au­toim­mune dis­ease is es­sen­tially a self-un­der­min­ing con­di­tion, whereby your im­mune sys­tem at­tacks healthy body tis­sue by mis­take. In the case of au­toim­mune thy­roid con­di­tions, the an­ti­bod­ies pro­duced by the body’s white blood cells tar­get the thy­roid gland, which can ei­ther over­stim­u­late it or grad­u­ally de­stroy its abil­ity to pro­duce thy­roid hor­mones,” says Dr Chng. GRAVES’ DIS­EASE gives rise to an over­ac­tive thy­roid gland or hy­per­thy­roidism, caus­ing your me­tab­o­lism to speed up, says Dr Chng. “Watch out for symptoms such as trem­bling hands, weight loss, an in­creased heart rate, and feel­ing hot all the time.” HASHIMOTO’S DIS­EASE, on the other hand, leads to an un­der­ac­tive thy­roid gland, and is the most com­mon cause of hy­pothy­roidism. “Some of its symptoms in­clude fa­tigue, dry skin, hair loss and con­sti­pa­tion,” says Dr Chng. Ac­cord­ing to Dr Chng, au­toim­mune thy­roid dis­or­ders are more likely to af­fect women in their 20s to late 40s. “You might also be more sus­cep­ti­ble if you have a per­sonal or fam­ily his­tory of au­toim­mune thy­roid dis­eases or other au­toim­mune dis­or­ders like type 1 di­a­betes, lu­pus and rheuma­toid arthri­tis.”

Can I pre­vent them?

The ex­act causes of au­toim­mune thy­roid dis­or­ders are still un­known, so there is cur­rently no pre­ven­tion for them. “If you sus­pect that you may be suf­fer­ing from a thy­roid con­di­tion, con­sult your doc­tor and re­quest to do a thy­roid func­tion test,” ad­vises Dr Chng.

Hy­pothy­roidism can be treated with thy­rox­ine re­place­ment in the form of tak­ing a small pill daily, while hy­per­thy­roidism can be reme­died with med­i­ca­tion, ra­dioac­tive io­dine ther­apy or surgery. The Depart­ment of En­docrinol­ogy at Sin­ga­pore Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal is a ter­tiary re­fer­ral cen­tre for pa­tients with thy­roid dis­or­ders. Some of its ser­vices in­clude di­ag­nos­tic testing, phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tions and com­pre­hen­sive and holis­tic care. Call 6321- 4377 or visit for more in­for­ma­tion.

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