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By: Doreen Udoudom. Datelinehealth Africa Volunteer Freelance Writer, with editorial support from The DLHA Team
Hypothyroidism is a condition that occurs when the thyroid gland is unable to produce enough thyroid hormones for the body.
It produces two major chemical products, called hormones (thyroid hormones, T3 and T4). These hormones aid energy production processes (i.e., metabolism) in the body.
The production of the thyroid gland hormones is under the control of a master hormone controlling gland at the base of the brain called the anterior pituitary gland. This gland itself is also under the control of a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. There is a dynamic functional relationship between these three structures as depicted in figure 2.
When there are insufficient amounts of thyroid hormones, metabolic processes in the body are reduced. For example, if there is less amount of thyroid hormone reaching your brain, you might experience mood swings or depression. With reduced amounts of thyroid hormone reaching your stomach and intestine, you might have constipation or other abdominal issues.
Globally and in Nigeria, women have a higher risk for hypothyroidism than men. The mean age of patients with the condition in Nigeria is much lower (< 50 years) than seen globally (> 50 years). (1, 3)
The prevalence of hypothyroidism in Nigeria has not been thoroughly studied and existing data are poor in quality.
A study carried out from January 2016 to December 2017 at the Endocrine Clinic of Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital, Sagamu, South-west, Nigeria showed a prevalence rate of 10.75% among patients presenting with thyroid disorder. (1)
Another study carried out from January 2016 to January 2019 in the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Southeastern Nigeria indicated a prevalence rate of 0.9% for hypothyroidism in the outpatient clinic of the hospital. (3)
More studies need to be carried out to ascertain the exact epidemiology of hypothyroidism among the Nigerian population.
Hypothyroidism can be caused by any of the following:
You are at risk of having an underactive thyroid if you:
What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?
The symptoms of hypothyroidism are vague and may mimic symptoms of other ailments See figure 3).
If you have experienced more than six of the symptoms below, there is a high chance that you are suffering from hypothyroidism.
Late detection or untreated hypothyroidism can cause complications such as:
Doctors diagnose hypothyroidism by:
Hypothyroidism is readily treatable. The treatment in the African context includes:
The most common and effective medication for hypothyroidism is the daily use of a drug called levothyroxine. (2)
Levothyroxine is the synthetic form of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4), which is normally produced by the thyroid gland.
The medication is usually taken once a day, preferably in the morning on an empty stomach.
After starting the medication, your doctor will schedule periodic follow-up visits to monitor your thyroid hormone levels and adjust the dosage if necessary.
Hypothyroidism is not preventable. To avoid developing complications, it is important to take note of your symptoms and speak with your healthcare provider early for appropriate care.
However, there are tips that you can adopt to help reduce the likelihood of you developing an underactive thyroid gland disorder. Some of these include:
At the public level, suggestions for lowering the burden of hypothyroidism within African communities include:
The impact of thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism in Nigeria can be quite complex. It may affect economic, work productivity, creativity, child development and many other aspects of community life.
As hypothyroidism requires medical diagnosis, treatment, and long-term management, people with this condition may incur expenses related to doctor visits, laboratory tests, prescription medications (such as thyroid hormone replacement therapy), and regular follow-up appointments. These healthcare costs can put a huge financial burden on individuals, their families and the public healthcare expenditure generally.
Workers having symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as fatigue, reduced concentration, and impaired memory are not likely to perform optimally in the workplace. This can result in decreased productivity, absenteeism and job loss.
Hypothyroidism can also affect children's cognitive development and academic performance if left untreated or undiagnosed. This can limit their education, creativity, intellect and future mental and socio-economic opportunities.
Hypothyroidism is caused by the inability of the thyroid gland to produce enough thyroid hormones.
Early detection and treatment is important to avoid complications.
With the right diet, medication and follow up care, people with hypothyroidism can live healthy and purposeful lives.
4. Goitrogens, Thyroid Disease, and Your Diet. Verywell. Updated October 12, 2022. Accessed May 26, 2023.
Published: May 29, 2023
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