Thyroid disorders are common.1 What many people don’t know is that their genetics may strongly influence their risk of developing one.
Maintaining a healthy thyroid is important throughout our lives. The thyroid gland produces hormones that affect growth, development and regulates the body’s metabolism.1
Yet an estimated 200 million people worldwide are affected by thyroid disorders.1 Symptoms can be wide-ranging and can have a debilitating affect on our quality of life.2
One of the main risk factors of developing a thyroid disorder lies in our genes. In fact, researchers have discovered the majority of thyroid disorders are influenced by our genetics – which means they can be inherited or passed down between family members.3
That’s why this International Thyroid Awareness Week, we’re doing do all we can to raise awareness of the genetic links for thyroid disorders and support better thyroid health.
What should I do if I’m aware of family history or feeling unwell?
Some of the ways in which thyroid disorders can impact our health and wellbeing include fatigue, muscle weakness, sleep issues, anxiety, depression, problems with vision and menstrual cycle issues.2 If you’re aware of a family history with thyroid disorders, or you’re feeling unwell and you’re not sure why, use a symptom checker.
How is a thyroid disorder diagnosed?
The most definitive way to diagnose a possible thyroid disorder is through a thyroid function test. This is done through a simple blood test, which is then analysed for certain levels of thyroid hormones.4
Where there is family history of thyroid disorders or thyroid cancer, a doctor may recommend genetic testing. Your doctor or a genetic counsellor will discuss the results with you, risks of developing a thyroid disorder and a potential monitoring plan.
The sooner a thyroid disorder is diagnosed the better to ensure those affected can receive the right care, including treatment where appropriate.
What should I do if I’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder?
Your GP will talk throught the various options to help manage a potential thyroid disorder. It’s also worth discussing your diagnosis to help family members better understand their risk, increase their awareness of possible signs and symptoms and encourage them to get tested where they have concerns.
This International Thyroid Awareness Week we’re raising awareness about the importance of mothers and babies maintaining good thyroid health. ITAW is an annual campaign developed by Merck (Merck Healthcare KGaA) in close collaboration with Thyroid Federation International and this year with ThyroidChange.
Be thyroid aware
Thyroid disorders are common conditions worldwide1, which occur when the thyroid gland – a small butterfly shaped gland in the front of the neck – is not working properly.3
The thyroid gland is known to play a key role in our health and wellbeing.4,5 However, up to 50% of people suffering from thyroid disorders are undiagnosed.6
While living with an undiagnosed thyroid disorder can be debilitating, it doesn’t have to be this way! Inspired by the butterfly-shaped gland, with the right management, we say to those with thyroid disorders to ‘Spread Your Wings’.
1 in 8 women will develop thyroid problems in her life. Too little or too much thyroid hormone can cause problems in getting pregnant and during pregnancy, therefore, proper functioning of the thyroid gland plays an important role in a mother’s life.8 Which is why for ITAW we are focused on raising awareness about the importance of mothers and babies maintaining good thyroid health.
‘Spread Your Wings’ infographic
Our ‘spread your wings’ infographic helps people to be thyroid aware. Read and share to spread awareness about the impact of thyroid disorders on mothers and babies and the common symptoms.
Share the ‘Spread Your Wings’ infographic to encourage others to be thyroid aware
Why are we doing this?
International Thyroid Awareness Week (ITAW), now in its 13th year, was created to highlight the detrimental impact that thyroid disorders have on people’s quality of life when left undiagnosed. Around 1.6 billion people worldwide are thought to be at risk, with hundreds of millions living with a thyroid condition right now.9 Up to 50% of those living with a thyroid disorder are undiagnosed, and people may be needlessly struggling through their everyday lives without knowing the root cause of their symptoms.6
However, once diagnosed, thyroid disorders are treatable,5,7 and the ITAW campaign is pushing to improve testing and diagnoses globally.
“Thyroid issues: Mother & Baby” is the theme of this year’s international Thyroid Awareness Week, a campaign developed by Merck in close collaboration with Thyroid Federation International (TFI) and ThyroidChange to raise awareness of thyroid disorders and reduce the impact on our daily lives. This year we are focusing on mothers and babies and the impact of thyroid disorders before, during and after pregnancy wareness Week…
Do you know that undiagnosed thyroid disorders can affect fertility and the health of mother and baby?
Hundreds of millions of people across the world are currently living with a thyroid disorder,1 with 1 in 8 women developing thyroid problems in her lifetime.2 Yet, there is a staggering lack of knowledge about the impact that thyroid conditions can have on fertility.
A recent international survey showed a lack of knowledge about the impact that thyroid conditions can have on fertility, as only a quarter (24%)* of respondents were aware that undiagnosed thyroid disorders can cause fertility problems. In addition, people are unaware of how undiagnosed thyroid disorders during, and after, pregnancy can have complications for mother and baby.
Less than half of respondents (48%) were not aware that hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) could cause complications for mother and baby during pregnancy.
While, less than half (48%) were aware that it is crucial to check for optimal thyroid hormone levels for pregnant women throughout pregnancy.
Only a quarter (26%) of respondents were aware that new mothers who have no previous history of thyroid disease can develop problems with their thyroid within the first year after giving birth; this is called postpartum thyroiditis (PPT).
Less than half (45%) of respondents were aware that newborn babies (i.e. one month or younger) need to be tested for congenital hypothyroidism (i.e. underactive thyroid present at or before birth), in case they are born without a thyroid gland or underdeveloped thyroid gland and may require treatment.
Results of the survey indicated that there is a need to better educate people on the possible impact of unmanaged thyroid disorders on fertility and the health on mother and baby.
About Thyroid Disorders
When undiagnosed, thyroid disorders can impact fertility, fetal development and the health of the mother and baby. However, when thyroid disorders are diagnosed and treated appropriately, patients with thyroid disorders can lead normal lives and have healthy pregnancies6.
Watch the stories of four mothers who know all too well how an undiagnosed – and therefore improperly managed – thyroid disorder can affect both mother and baby.
Thyroid disorders can affect fertility. If you have been trying for a baby for a while, it is important to know that thyroid disorders, both hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), can sometimes be the cause of fertility problems.3,4 It is advised to get your thyroid checked if you:
– Have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for more than 12 months5 – Have irregular menstrual cycles5 – Have had two or more miscarriages5 – Have a family history of thyroid disorders6 – Suffer from endometriosis7 or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)8
Pregnancy causes several physiological and hormonal changes that impact the thyroid. It is crucial for the thyroid gland to function properly during pregnancy; thyroid hormones are essential for the normal development of a baby’s brain and nervous system, and the baby relies on its mother to supply thyroid hormone through the placenta during the first trimester. Thyroid hormones also play a critical role in the development of maintaining the health of the mother-to-be.9 Expectant mothers should be tested for optimal thyroid hormone levels throughout pregnancy to check for the normal development and growth of an unborn child.
Many new mothers have complications with their thyroid in the first year after giving birth, even if they have no previous history of thyroid disorders. The condition is caused postpartum thyroiditis (PPT) and in most patients, it is a passing and transient condition. However, for some it can lead to a persistent overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) or develop into an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).6 For any concerns, please seek the advice of a healthcare professional.
Thyroid disorders can also affect babies. Some infants are born without a thyroid gland or under-developed thyroid gland, known as congenital hypothyroidism. These babies with this disorder do not have enough thyroid hormone for their body’s needs, however if correctly diagnosed, in the first few days after birth, and with correct treatment, the disorder can be managed.10
Remember thyroid disorders can be managed by treatment. Don’t let a thyroid disorder go undiagnosed. If you are concerned that you have symptoms of a thyroid disorder, it is important to seek the advice of a healthcare professional, who may carry out a blood test.
In addition, yoga can support your overall health and can improve the quality of life in patients with underactive thyroid.11, 12
How to get involved in spreading awareness about how undiagnosed thyroid disorders affect mother and baby
Spread the news on this important topic and let us make a difference in the life of people who suffer from thyroid-disorders. If you’re on social media, keep up with the campaign via our channels on Twitter and LinkedIn, and play your part in the global movement by using the hashtag #ITAW20.
Why are we doing this?
International Thyroid Awareness Week (ITAW), now in its 12th year, was created to highlight the detrimental impact that thyroid disorders have on people’s quality of life when left undiagnosed. Around 1.6 billion people worldwide are thought to be at risk, with hundreds of millions living with a thyroid condition right now.1 Up to 50% of those living with a thyroid disorder are undiagnosed, and people may be needlessly struggling through their everyday lives without knowing the root cause of their symptoms.13
However, once diagnosed, thyroid disorders are treatable,14, 15 and the ITAW campaign is pushing hard to improve testing and diagnoses globally.
* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 7,208 adults in Chile, Columbia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and China. Fieldwork was undertaken from 24 March – 6 April 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults (Aged 18+) in each country.
Knowing your thyroid can help make the most of the time with your healthcare professional, but how do you do that? The key is to test and talk.
To mark International Thyroid Awareness Week, we’re raising awareness about the importance of thyroid function testing and honest communication between patients and physicians to maintain good thyroid health.
What is a TSH test?
The TSH test is the best way to find out if your thyroid gland is working properly.1
Testing your thyroid function helps you understand if your thyroid gland is producing the right amount, but not too much or too little, of the T4 hormone (thyroxine) into your blood to support your body’s digestion, heart and muscle function, brain development, bone upkeep and keep other organs working as they should.1
To assess this, the TSH test measures the level of another hormone that is key in the control of your thyroid, called TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone).1 TSH is vital as it allows communication between your pituitary gland and your thyroid.1 If the pituitary gland detects low levels of T4 in your blood, it produces TSH, which works by stimulating the thyroid gland to produce more T4 in order to restore balance.1 In many ways the thyroid is like a heater and the pituitary like a controlling thermostat. But like any system, it can malfunction causing it to stop working as it should.
How does the TSH test work?
The best way to measure the TSH levels is by taking a blood sample.1 Changes in TSH can serve as an “early warning system” – often occurring before the actual level of T4 hormones in the body becomes too high or too low:1
A high TSH level indicates that the thyroid gland is not making enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism).
A low TSH level usually indicates that the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism).
In most healthy individuals, a normal TSH value means that the thyroid is functioning properly.
What to do next?
Talk to your physician and ask if you might need a TSH test, particularly if you have any concerns about your current care or are experiencing any new symptoms, such as:2
Sadness, mood swings and depression
Muscle and joint pain
Weight gain despite lifestyle control
Abnormal menstrual periods and / or fertility problems
Thin and brittle hair or fingernails and / or dry flaky skin
Good communication between you and your physician is vital. When done right, patients and their physicians are able to respect each other, share feelings, hold open and honest discussions, and agree on the right goals for treatment and care.3 As a result, studies have shown that good communication leads to better treatment outcomes.3,4
Remember, a healthy patient-physician relationship involves honest discussions about more than just treatment,5 so do make sure to share with your doctor information about your general wellbeing, symptoms, and any other health issues you might have. A handy wellbeing diary is available here to help you track your symptoms and prepare for appointments.
Doctor-Patient Communication: A Review. Ochsner J. 2010 Spring; 10(1): 38–43.
Patient satisfaction and quality of life in hypothyroidism: An online survey by the British Thyroid Foundation. 2021. Clinical Endocrinology. 94(3):513-520
Patient-centered Management of Hypothyroidism. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2017 May-Jun; 21(3): 475–477.
Prepared April 2022
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