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What's lifestyle got to do with thyroid disease?

By Sanjay Kalra
February 28, 2017 16:35 IST
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Recent evidence suggests that physical activity, adequate sleep and stress-management are essential for maintaining optimal thyroid function, says endocrinologist Sanjay Kalra.

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IMAGE: A preventive approach to lifestyle management can effectively control or prevent thyroid disorder. Photograph: Paresh Gandhi/


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

Dr Sanjay Kalra is an endocrinologist, Bharti Hospital, Karnal, and vice-president South Asian Federation of Endocrine Societies.

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