Am I at risk of developing thyroid disorders?
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 www.sgh.com.sg for more information.