Fit & Proper: Thyroid disease as a lifestyle problem

Thyroid gland disorders are fairly common in India with prevalence rates ranging from 11 per cent to 13 per cent, one of the highest globally. The country at present harbours 42 million individuals who suffer from one or more forms of thyroid disorders. Hypothyroidism, or a reduced thyroid gland function, is the most common form of thyroid disorders in India, affecting one in 10 adults. The rates of hyperthyroidism, a disorder with overfunctioning thyroid activity, vary across different regions and are relatively less common.


Iodine is essential for thyroid function and in many patients, this concomitant iodine deficiency can manifest as goitre along with hypothyroidism. Patients with goitre have a visible or palpable thyroid gland, which can be seen or felt in the anterior part of the neck. However, in some patients exhibiting goitre, thyroid gland may function normally and hence require no treatment.


Despite a high disease burden, thyroid gland disorders have failed to receive due attention. Even after the promotion of iodized salt since 1983, prevalence rates have failed to reduce to statistically significant levels.


Symptoms of thyroid disorders can be manifold


Hypothyroidism: Difficulty in sleeping; fatigue; difficulty in concentration; dry skin and hair; depression; sensitivity to cold temperature; joint and muscle pain; weight gain.


Hyperthyroidism: Anxiety; irritability or moodiness; nervousness, hyperactivity; sweating or sensitivity to high temperatures; hand trembling (shaking); hair loss; missed or light menstrual periods and weight loss.


These symptoms can sometimes be generalised or vague and make it difficult to diagnose a thyroid dysfunction. The only way to make a solid diagnosis is through regular thyroid screenings.


Like other non-communicable disorders, a person’s lifestyle is a major determinant to the course, severity and duration of the thyroid disease. Recent evidence also suggests that physical activity is essential for maintaining optimal thyroid function since exercise helps stimulate hormonal secretions from the thyroid gland. Getting adequate sleep and adopting effective stress-management techniques are equally important.


A preventive approach to lifestyle management can effectively control or prevent the disorder. Such management options become imperative to those in the high risk category such as a family history of thyroid dysfunction.


Preventive measures:


  • Avoid smoking
  • Eat smaller but frequent meals. Moderation is key especially when it comes to carbohydrates
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get regular thyroid screening tests
  • Correct anemia, vitamin D/calcium or electrolyte deficiency
  • Ensure good sleep hygiene
  • Screen for and manage associated conditions
  • Do not self- diagnose or self-medicate


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