Every 5 years, the Department of Science and Technology, through the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, conducts a nationwide survey to evaluate the health and nutrition of Filipinos. This survey is dubbed the National Nutrition and Health Survey, and its latest figures revealed one distressing fact: almost 1 in 10 adult Filipinos have a thyroid problem.
The next question that begs to be asked is, are you one of them?
The thyroid gland is an underrated organ. A person with heart or lung disease will immediately fear for his/her life. A person with an eye, skin, or joint problem will undoubtedly become distressed. But the same could not be said of a person with a thyroid problem. Sadly, the thyroid does not deserve this lack of attention. The thyroid gland is a master gland, controlling the rate of activity of almost every other organ, including the heart. It does this by producing thyroid hormones. These are protein molecules that act as chemical signals (or more aptly, orders) on how these other organs function. In addition, it also produces the hormone calcitonin, which plays a role in controlling the level of calcium in the blood, which is crucial not just for bone health, but alsomuscle contraction, blood clotting, and aregular heartbeat.
Detection is the first step in addressing thyroid problems. Do you have any of these symptoms of thyroid disease?
- Neck mass
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck. Most of the time, you will not be able to feel it. However, thyroid diseases commonly lead to an enlargement of the thyroid gland, or a part of it. This condition is called goiter. This will present as an enlarged mass in the front part of the neck, either in the middle or a little bit to the sides. The mass generally moves up and down when you swallow.
Nine of out 10 times, goiter is caused by a deficiency in iodine. This element is an important component in the production of thyroid hormone. If iodine is deficient in the body, the thyroid gland reacts by swelling.
- Exhaustion or low energy
We mentioned that the thyroid hormone regulates the rate of activity of other organs, including your brain and muscles. If your thyroid hormone level is low (hypothyroidism), you can experience a feeling of tiredness even after a good night’s sleep. You are also more likely to get tired early in the day.
- Anxiety, nervousness, and poor sleep
On the other hand, if your thyroid level is high (hyperthyroidism), your body and brain goes on overdrive. This can manifest as over-alertness, agitation, anxiety, nervousness, and poor sleep.
- Weight loss or weight gain
Thyroid hormone also controls how fast you burn energy. Thus, those who have hyperthyroidism will burn energy faster, and they could lose weight drastically. In contrast, those with hypothyroidism will suffer from sluggish metabolism, and will gain weight and have difficulty shedding off this excess weight.
- Cold intolerance or heat intolerance
Our metabolism also controls how well we tolerate cold or warm temperatures. Those with a high metabolic rate due to hyperthyroidism would always feel like their body is overheating, and would sweat profusely even in normal weather. In contrast, those with hypothyroidism would feel cold.
- Bowel changes
The gastrointestinal tract will also react to abnormalities in thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism revs up the contractions of the gut, and this could lead to diarrhea. Those with hypothyroidism will have a sluggish gut motion, and could have constipation.
- Hair loss
Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can cause drastic hair loss, even in the hairs of the eyebrows.
- Tremors and palpitations
These two are classic signs of an overactive thyroid gland. Here, the thyroid overstimulates the heart and muscles, which leads to rapid heart rate, palpitations, and tremors in the fingers and other parts of the body.
These symptoms alone cannot be used to diagnose thyroid problems completely. It is also very important to determine the actual level of thyroid hormone in the blood, since this will dictate the proper treatment. The treatment of a patient with hyperthyroidism is completely different from that of one with hypothyroidism, and from that of a patient with goiter but with otherwise normal thyroid levels. It is also important to determine the level of a hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), because this gives a clue as to the cause of any thyroid hormone imbalances.
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned here, or feel like you need to have your thyroid tested, see your physician for additional information.