Thyroid disorders are some of the most frequent diseases in the world with
about 1.6 billion people worldwide at risk. International Thyroid Week, an
initiative of Merck Serono in association with Thyroid Federation International
aims to bring to light the importance of having your thyroid checked regularly
so as to correctly prevent and/or manage these disorders.
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
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