Thyroid – a thermostat of our body
The thyroid is one of the most important endocrine glands. It lies on the front of the neck, under the Adam’s apple. It often has a butterfly-shape and weighs only about 20 grams. Its main function is the production and secretion of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The thyroid gland is responsible for controlling the speed of the body’s metabolism, heart rate and respiration, and also affects the growth and development of the nervous system and many other processes in our body. Thyroid problems are more common in women, occurring about five times more often than in men. Every year, on May 25, we celebrate World Day of this important gland.
About 1,700 new patients a year are diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
Irena is a 44-year-old art historian, the mother of a four-year-old boy, Kosta. Six years ago, she was diagnosed with decreased thyroid function – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Although her aunt has had the same disease for more than 30 years, and Irena knows a lot about it, the diagnosis struck her like a bolt out of the blue.
She did not connect the symptoms, such as mood-changes, feelings of sadness, nervousness, and weight loss to this disease. “I remember being at the seaside just before I was diagnosed with the disease, and even though it was around 40 degrees outside, I was extremely cold. I was extremely sensitive to the cold all the time,” Irena comments about her condition before she found out what was really happening to her. About 1,700 new patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are diagnosed each year at the thyroid clinic at the UKCL Nuclear Medicine Clinic. It is an autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland, which means that the immune system recognizes the thyroid gland as a foreign body.
Problems due to decreased or increased thyroid’s function?
Thyroid problems can be caused by two completely opposite reasons – decreased or increased gland function. Hypothyroidism is a decreased function of the thyroid gland. Around 1-2% of people worldwide suffer from reduced thyroid function. The most common form is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which was discovered in 1912 by the Japanese doctor Hakaru Hashimoto. It most commonly occurs in women between the ages of 30 and 50 and causes inflammation of the thyroid gland. Chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland leads to long-term reduced function, as the gland is no longer able to produce thyroid hormone. Due to the slow progression of the disease, it can take months or even years before an individual notices any symptoms.
Hyperthyroidism is an increased functioning of the thyroid gland. The most common form of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ or Basedow’s disease.
Signs of thyroid dysfunction
With hypothyroidism, the body’s metabolism slows down, consequently the heart beats slower, digestion is slow, patients are colds, the skin is cold and dry, hair and nail problems occur, and changes in the brain that lead to dysfunction in concentration and memory occur. However, if the thyroid gland works too much (hyperthyroidism), everything functions faster: the heart rate and digestion, the skin is moist and warm, the hair is thin and falls out diffusely. Above all, the effects on the heart are important, as excessive thyroid function can speed up the heart rhythm, in the young people it is only too fast, in the elderly people, however, it can become irregular. Furthermore, changes in behaviour also occur. Excessive thyroid function can cause irritability and nervousness, on the contrary, in the case of decreased thyroid function, people are calm, phlegmatic.
Treatment of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
According to Irena, at first she found it most difficult to accept the fact that there was no cure for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and that she would have to take medication for the rest of her life. Now, Euthyrox tablets are part of her daily routine. “When I started the treatment, my thyrologist (a doctor who deals with thyroid diseases) monitored my thyroid hormone levels with regular blood tests and adjusted further treatment according to the test results. The dose of the medications also varies with the level of hormones in the blood. I was given a medicine with a certain concentration of synthetic hormones, which I drink in the morning on an empty stomach,” says Irena, pointing out that her biggest concern is that she always has a sufficient amount of tablets. The treatment is actually simple, adds Irena, as it is done by replacing the missing hormone T4 in the body in the form of a drug containing synthetic T4, which is harmless and without serious side effects, explains our interlocutor, and provides us with information received from the specialist, that the body does not distinguish between T4, which was produced in the thyroid gland, and the one additionally introduced into the body in the form of a medicine.
Irena says she still needed quite some time to listen to her body. She now says that based on her mood and weight-changes, she can detect a change in hormone levels. Irena accepted her illness and lifelong therapy. However, she is bothered by the different approach to this disease.“What bothers me is the attitude of all the doctors I have been to so far and their view of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis being a common disease (especially in women), that occurs in every fifth woman, and that I have to come to terms with the fact that I am that fifth one. On the other hand, those who sell various dietary supplements present thyroid disease as the biggest problem, which will slowly destroy all the functions in our body if we do not, of course, buy their magic potion. It seems to me that, as patients, we are at a crossroads between the rather, conditionally speaking, nonchalant approach of doctors on the one hand and the spreading of fear dictated by the sales market on the other hand. I think there is a lack of an objective approach that would inspire the confidence of lifelong patients,” concludes our interlocutor.