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Fit & Proper: Is stress affecting your thyroid?

Payal Mehra (name changed on request), a 29-year-old software professional, developed symptoms like weight gain, constipation, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, sluggishness and sleeplessness. Her skin turned dry and thick. But she did not go for a thorough checkup. A year later, she underwent the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) blood test and learnt that she had hypothyroidism due to which she would not be able to conceive.

Most people are aware that stress can cause various health problems. A sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise, smoking, drinking, eating junk food, poor sleep – especially in people who work night shifts, desk job, the tension of meeting targets, all of these lead to stress.

Stress can also cause hypothyroidism. It refers to a state in which the production of thyroid hormone is below normal. The symptoms of hypothyroidism are often subtle, but can include increased cholesterol levels, a state of depression, loss or gain in weight, swollen neck, mood swings, low energy, hair loss, constipation, dry skin, brittle nails, problem with vision and the trembling of hands.

Our bodies are not designed to handle chronic stress. That is why we have adrenal glands. These glands produce hormones in response to stress which help control the heart rate, blood pressure, the level of minerals such as sodium and potassium in the blood and the way the body utilises food, among other things.

Sometime, the adrenal glands are unable to handle the high level of stress we live with these days. They then become weak and put the body in a state of breaking down. We can say that weak adrenal glands cause hypothyroidism.

It is a common problem these days, especially after 25 years of age. Women are four times more prone to thyroid disorders than men. If undiagnosed or untreated, thyroid disease can be a cause of infertility or frequent miscarriage.

Hyperthyroidism can be treated in many ways. However, a doctor chooses the line of treatment based on several variables like the cause of hyperthyroidism, the age of the patient, the size of the thyroid gland and the presence of other illnesses.

Thyroid hormone replacement is very effective in restoring fertility. It may take one to two months to normalise your thyroid hormone levels with medication. Once you start the medication, you must check your TSH levels to ensure that they are in the normal range. You will usually need to continue the medicines for the rest of your life and recheck your thyroid function every six months or so.

QUICK TIPS

  • Do not ignore early symptoms: Be alert to symptoms like weight loss or gain, constipation, muscle and joint aches, sluggishness, intolerance towards cold weather, abnormal and irregular periods, fatigue, brittle nails, hair fall, blackening of skin and sleeplessness.
     
  • Get proper diagnosis: People should go for a thyroid test once in a year. These include the TSH test, chest X-ray and T4 or thyroxin test.
     
  • Lose weight: Losing weight is of utmost importance for a patient of hypothyroidism. Consult a dietitian or join a gym.
     
  • Get enough sleep and eliminate stress: Immediately address your stress level for the proper functioning of your adrenal glands. You can try yoga or practise breathing exercises.
     
  • Exercises regularly: Even a five-minute walk in office counts. Ideally, walk for 30 minutes in a day and take the stairs instead of the lift. Small lifestyle chances can make a big difference.
     
  • Eat well: Have a proper balanced diet and three meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – in a day. Consult a dietitian who can recommend the ideal diet for thyroid patients.

Shobha Gupta

Medical director and IVF expert, Mother’s Lap IVF Centre, Delhi

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