Thyroid FAQs

What is Thyroid?

Thyroid is the name of a gland that is situated in front of the neck. Normally you may not be able to see the gland unless you are very thin. The function of the thyroid gland is to produce thyroid hormone.

Hormones are the chemical substances that are produced by different glands in the body and are carried to various organs through blood.

What way thyroid is helpful?

Thyroid hormone is one of the life-saving hormones. It has a number of effects on body’s function. The main one being to control the metabolic rate, i.e., the amount of energy used by the body to maintain vital processes such as breathing, circulation and digestion. Too much thyroid hormone makes the body to work too fast, whereas too little allows the body to slow down. Thyroid hormone also has important function of being involved in the maturation of brain and physical growth in babies both before and after birth. Deficiency of thyroid hormone certainly can affect height in the growing children.

What controls the thyroid gland?

The pituitary gland is a pea-sized gland that is found at the base of the brain. One of the hormones that the pituitary gland produces is called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH stimulates the thyroid gland to release thyroid hormone.

  • If the level of the thyroid hormone in the body is low, pituitary gland tries to cope by giving more TSH and this stimulates the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormone.

  • On the other hand, if thyroid hormone level is high, pituitary stops giving TSH and the thyroid gland stops releasing thyroid hormone until it is again required.

What is the need for treatment?

Thyroid hormone is absolutely necessary for normal body functions. So if you have under-active thyroid you need to be on thyroid hormone. When you are taking less than the optimum treatment, you will yourself find that you are becoming slow. Also, your blood level of cholesterol (fat in the blood) increases with under active thyroid, which as you would know, is not good for heart and brain.

In the same way, excess thyroid hormone in the blood puts pressure on different organs in the body, particularly on the heart and brain. Heart is made to work more by the excess thyroid hormones and may lead to heart failure, particularly in the elderly. Long standing overactive thyroid can make the bones weak and the muscles thin.

Who is at risk of developing Thyroid disease?

Family history of thyroid is the main risk factor. If you have a family history and you have symptoms suggestive of under- or overactive thyroid, it is worth seeing your doctor for a physical examination and blood test. Remember thyroid disease is 10 times more common in women than in men.

How often do you need to monitor when you are on treatment?

Once we know the exact dose of thyroid hormone for treating under active thyroid, test need not be done for more than once a year. The good practice is to repeat the test every year to make sure that you are not under- or overtreated. For overactive thyroid you will require frequent monitoring, may be every six weeks until your thyroid settles. Your treating physician will be the best person to tell you that.

What is Goiter?

A big thyroid gland for whatever reason is called goiter. A big gland not necessarily is overactive; it can work normally or can work less. A goiter which puts pressure on the structures in the neck or is very big, may be best dealt with operation.

Is Goiter and Cancer same?

No, certainly not. Thyroid cancer is not common. There are certain clinical pointers are there which tells us whether thyroid cancer is high on the card or not. If yes, we can perform a simple test called FNAC to see a few cells under the microscope.

Once a diagnosis of cancer is made, thyroid gland is removed and radiotherapy is given. We use thyroid hormone after operation for not only replacing the hormone you will be deficient after operation but also for reducing the chance of recurrence of the cancer. Periodic monitoring is necessary, so people with thyroid cancer should be followed up life-long.

Is there is any good news?

The good news is that in most of the cases we can treat thyroid very effectively and completely. Under active thyroid disease is very common and totally treatable. Its’ true that you need monitoring throughout your life, but if you have under active thyroid, there is absolutely no reason for not feeling like anybody without thyroid problem.

There is very little bad news with thyroid problem. Even thyroid cancer is one of those cancers which are very much treatable and you can have a normal life for decades unless the cancer has spread too much before the diagnosis is made.

What diet I need to change?

There is no need to worry regarding diet in thyroid disease. As told before, our salt and water is iodinated now and you do not need to take extra iodine. If you have a goiter, it is advisable to avoid spinach and broccoli as sometime they can make the goiter bigger.