Thyroid disorders are quite common worldwide, affecting over 200 million people across the globe. The thyroid gland is the butterfly-shaped gland in front of the neck which produces hormones that are important for adequate functioning of the various organs in the body. They regulate the body's metabolic rate as well as cardiac and digestive functions, brain development, muscle control and bone maintenance. Thyroid disorder is any condition that affects the structure or functioning of the thyroid gland, impacting its ability to produce the hormones required for proper metabolism. Disordered growth of thyroid cells can lead to the formation of nodules which can be benign or malignant.
There are many types of thyroid disease that can cause a variety of symptoms. According to NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), about 42 million people in India suffer from thyroid-related disorders, of which 60% are women. One out of every eight young women in India have thyroid dysfunction and it is observed to be higher in women as compared to men.
1. Why thyroid affects women more than men
Most of the thyroid disorders are autoimmune in nature i.e. a condition in which a patient's immune system attacks and either destroys or stimulates the thyroid gland, said Dr Sunil Kumar Mishra, Director, Endocrinology and Diabetology, Medanta - The Medicity, who also tells us why women are more likely to have thyroid than men. According to various studies, auto-immune diseases such as celiac disease, diabetes mellitus type 1, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis are more common in women. The diagnosis and treatment of these diseases get delayed because of varied symptoms which are difficult to detect. Apart from auto-immune diseases, iodine deficiency, especially during pregnancy when the body needs more iodine, can result in more thyroid disorders among women, Dr Mishra added. Iodine deficiency can lead to a drop in the thyroid hormone levels causing various disorders.
2. Common types of thyroid disorders
Hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, goiter, thyroiditis, thyroid cancer and thyroid nodules are common thyroid disorders affecting both men and women. Of these, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are 10 times more common in women than in men.
Hypothyroidism is a type of thyroid disorder which is caused when the thyroid gland becomes less active and produces fewer hormones than normal. It disturbs the balance of hormones and metabolism in the body. One of the most common causes of hypothyroidism in women is the autoimmune disease called Hashimoto's disease, in which antibodies gradually target the thyroid and destroy its ability to produce thyroid hormone. It is estimated that one out of 11 women will become hypothyroid in their lifetime.
Hyperthyroidism is a thyroid disorder in which a person's thyroid gland becomes overactive and produces more hormones than normal. These hormones play an important role in controlling the body's metabolism. In hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland becomes enlarged. This increases the body's metabolism and results in sudden weight loss, fast or irregular heartbeat, and anxiety.
3. Early warning signs and symptoms of thyroid disorders
Thyroid disorders are often missed in its early stage due to ambiguous signs and symptoms. It can be confused for infertility, lipid disorder, anaemia or depression. The symptoms occur only in the late decompensated state.
4. Symptoms for hypothyroidism may include:
- Dry skin
- Muscle cramps
- Intolerance to cold
- Puffy eyelids
- Excessive weight gain
- Irregular menstrual flow
5. Symptoms for hyperthyroidism may include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weight loss
- Moist palms
- Rapid and irregular heartbeat
- Bulging eyes
- Unblinking stare
- Vision changes
- Excessive hunger
- Frequent bowel movements
- Heat intolerance