Contributed by: Rachana Arya
Thyroid disorders strike an estimated 42 million people in India. These are significant numbers.
But despite its huge health impact, the butterfly-shaped endocrine gland remains one of the most misunderstood parts of the body.
In fact, there are numerous myths and misinformation surrounding thyroid disease which leads to confusion about how to recognize the disease.
So it’s no surprise that people delay the diagnosis and treatment of the condition.
January is observed as a thyroid awareness month. It aims to create awareness about the dangers of thyroid diseases and also highlights the prevention, treatment, symptoms and diagnosis of thyroid-related issues.
To mark this month, we put the facts straight about some of the common — and the strangest — thyroid myths.
Myth #1: The symptoms of thyroid disorders are obvious
People have this misconception that the symptoms are quite noticeable if you suffer from any thyroid problems and you will easily know if something is wrong with the thyroid gland.
However, the truth is that symptoms of thyroid disease can be subtle and easy to overlook.
Unfortunately, because the symptoms are subtle or overlap, thyroid disease can be very challenging to diagnose.
Thyroid disorders are often misdiagnosed in women in particular.
This is because the problems associated with thyroid could be hard to diagnose as symptoms may feel similar to other female-specific conditions including premenstrual dysphoric disorder, perimenopause, or menopause.
Myth #2: If you have a lump on your neck, it means you have a thyroid problem
This statement is farthest from the truth; a lump on the neck is not necessarily a goitre (enlarged thyroid).
While the thyroid is the most common thing that can enlarge in your neck, there could be other causes of a neck lump like a swollen lymph node or cyst.
Either way, it is recommended that you get any neck lumps checked by your endocrinologist who might order ultrasonography of thyroid nodules.
Myth #3: If you have thyroid disease, your eyes will bulge
No, this is a very common myth. Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that causes a condition called hyperthyroidism, sometimes – but not always – causes bulging eyes.
It can be a sign of an infection, thyroid problems, or other medical issues.
Myth #4: If you have a thyroid nodule, then you must have cancer
This is not always true. Thyroid nodules are most often benign (not cancer), and cause no immediate health risk if left untreated.
Half the women over age 40 have them and doctors find cancer only in about 2 to 3 in 20 of thyroid nodules.
So if a nodule develops on your thyroid gland, don’t hit the panic button for nodules that are smaller than 1 cm in size.
To successfully fight thyroid-related issues, it is important to create a balance of medication, a well-balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Myth #5: Only middle-aged women can develop thyroid problems
In reality, thyroid disease can affect men and women of any age.
However, women tend to be more vulnerable to all thyroid conditions – hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, nodules, and thyroid cancer because they have higher estrogen levels than men.
Myth #6: Consuming extra iodine will improve your thyroid health
Not true. Your thyroid needs iodine to function properly, but taking supplements may lead to health complications rather than doing any good.
For patients being treated for hyperthyroidism, excess iodine can trigger thyroid dysfunction and cause an overactive thyroid if you overdose on it.
Therefore it is important to consult a doctor before taking any supplements.
Myth #7: You can’t become pregnant if you have hypothyroidism
There is no doubt that an undiagnosed thyroid condition can make it difficult to conceive.
However, if controlled well, there is no reason why you should not have a successful pregnancy and a healthy baby.
Myth #8: Hypothyroidism may be managed with the regulation of food plans
It must be stressed that there is no special diet for thyroid disease.
Although claims about hypothyroidism diets abound, there’s no evidence that modification of food plans can bring your thyroid hormone to normalcy.
The truth is, you can — and should — aim for a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, filling proteins, and healthy fats.
Myth # 9: If you are sensitive to gluten it can trigger thyroid dysfunction
It is a predominant belief that gluten is a potential trigger for thyroid problems.
However, it is not clear if gluten is a cause, a consequence, or an innocent bystander in the development of common thyroid conditions — or cure it.
There is no clear evidence that going “gluten-free” may lessen the autoimmune response – but the evidence in practice appears very limited.
If you have thyroid disease, it’s pretty unlikely that gluten is the sole culprit. But if it does trigger symptoms in you, cutting back on gluten can be helpful.
The bottom line is, a thyroid condition may present differently in each of us.
If you’ve experienced changes in your bowel habits, sleep patterns, or bodyweight, have muscle weakness and tremors, ask your doctor to check your thyroid levels.
Thyroid disease might manifest itself in the form of mild anxiety, irritability and nervousness. The cause of these symptoms can be discovered with a simple blood test.
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