World Thyroid Day 2021

Early detection of thyroid disorders is important for timely diagnosis and treatment

Dr. Umal Azmat (Consultant Endocrinologist, SKMCH&RC)

On this World Thyroid Day, it is important to know that the prevalence of thyroid disease (hormonal and structural) is approximately 5% to 10% in Pakistan. However, a significant number of cases remain undiagnosed due to lack of awareness and unavailability of healthcare. Early detection of thyroid disorders, including thyroid cancer is possible through increased awareness and timely evaluation and testing.

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck, anteriorly. It produces thyroid hormone that controls many vital functions of the body. There are a number of different disorders related to thyroid, resulting from malfunctioning of the gland, auto-immune diseases and cancer. When the normal thyroid hormone balance is disrupted, people may show symptoms such as feeling tired, heat or cold sensitivity, weight gain or weight loss, tremors, and skin changes. Hypothyroidism (when the gland does not make sufficient thyroid hormone) and hyperthyroidism (when the gland makes excess thyroid hormone) are most common forms of thyroid disorders. Some forms of hypo/hyperthyroidism are self-limiting and do not need treatment, whereas others would require treatment.

As for prevention and early detection, some risk factors such as family history and genetics which predispose individuals to thyroid disorders cannot be altered and it is important to have a high level of suspicion in this patient population so that the correct diagnosis is made, and treatment started accordingly. In some cases, especially hypothyroidism, prevention is possible through adequate iodine nutrition. Thyroid nodules are also commonly noted, predominantly in females and most of them are not cancerous, however they must always be evaluated to rule out cancer. For early detection, people can go for annual health check-ups that include blood tests to screen for thyroid disorders. The Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust runs clinics for management of thyroid and parathyroid disorders. We treat both non-cancer and cancer related thyroid issues. In case of any unusual signs or symptoms, it is extremely important to see a physician because if left untreated, thyroid disorders can lead to significant morbidity and in some cases mortality.

According to the European Thyroid Association, patients with thyroid cancer resistant to therapy, under treatment with tyrosine kinase inhibitors, and those receiving radioiodine treatment should be considered at a potentially increased risk of developing severe disease with COVID-19 infection. Therefore, such patients in general, and all others in particular, should strictly follow all safety protocols. There is no evidence yet that patients with thyroid disorders should not get vaccinated, therefore, everyone is strongly encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible. If a patient is on any immunosuppressive therapy, they should consult their respective physician for advice regarding COVID vaccination.

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