Spotlight On Thyroid Disease Diagnosis, Treatment

Johannesburg – It is that time again dedicated to raising awareness about the impact that thyroid disease can have if the condition remains undiagnosed or not treated properly.

International Thyroid Awareness Week (ITAW) is celebrated every year from 25 to 31 May.

Thyroid disorders are common. 

What many people don’t know is that their genetics may strongly influence their risk of developing one. 

Knowing your family history can therefore help you stay one step ahead of complications from a thyroid disorder and related conditions.

Maintaining a healthy thyroid gland is important throughout our lives. 

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck wrapped around the windpipe. 

The thyroid gland produces hormones that affect growth and development and regulate the body’s metabolism. 

An estimated 200 million people worldwide are affected by thyroid disorders.1 Symptoms can be wide-ranging and can have a debilitating affect on your quality of life. 

There are two main types of thyroid disease. When the thyroid is overactive and makes too much thyroid hormone this can result in a condition called hyperthyroidism, and when the thyroid is underactive, too little thyroid hormone is made and this is called hypothyroidism.

1b Hypothyroidism most commonly occurs due to autoimmune damage of the thyroid gland, however, it can also arise as a consequence of iodine deficiency or exposure to radiation, among other causes.

One of the main risk factors for developing a thyroid disorder lies in your genes. 

In fact, researchers have discovered the majority of thyroid disorders are influenced by your genetics – which means they can be inherited or passed down between family members. 

That’s why, this International Thyroid Awareness Week, greater awareness is needed of the genetic links to thyroid disorders to better support thyroid health.

What should you do if you’re aware of family history of thyroid disease or feeling unwell?

Some of the ways in which thyroid disorders can impact your health and wellbeing include fatigue, muscle weakness, sleep issues, anxiety, depression, problems with vision and menstrual cycle issues. 2 

According to Dr Sindeep Bhana, Head of Endocrinology at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and a specialist in thyroid disease: “The loss of the outer third of the eyebrows, particularly in women, is the only symptom that is truly specific to thyroid disease”.   

If you’re aware of a family history of thyroid disorders, or feeling unwell and you’re not sure why, check your symptoms:

How is a thyroid disorder diagnosed?

The most definitive way to diagnose a possible thyroid disorder is through a thyroid function test. 

This is done through a simple blood test, which is then analysed for certain levels of thyroid hormones. 

Dr. Bhana strongly recommends a thyroid function test for young women who are experiencing menstrual problems, have a history of miscarriage or are not falling pregnant. 

“Children who are not growing and are falling behind in school and people with a goitre – a fullness in the neck that is a sign of an enlarged thyroid – who have a family history of thyroid disease, should also get tested,” says Dr. Bhana.

Although thyroid disease has a strong genetic influence there is currently no genetic test available.

The sooner a thyroid disorder is diagnosed the better, to ensure those affected can receive the right care, including treatment where appropriate.

What should you do if you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder?

Your doctor will talk you through the various options to help manage a potential thyroid disorder. 

It’s also worth discussing your diagnosis with your family members, so they can better understand their risk, increase their awareness of possible signs and symptoms and encourage them to get tested where they have concerns.

Good communication between you, your family and your doctor will ultimately lead to better treatment outcomes and enable you to live a better quality of life.