Thyroid disorders are a very common occurrence; however, most often they go undiagnosed. According to the American Thyroid Association, up to 60 per cent of people suffering from thyroid related conditions are unaware of it. Statistics from the Association also showed that women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems, and that one woman in eight will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime. Figures quoted during the Otolaryngology Conference and Exhibition in Dubai, held in 2013, stated that roughly 5 per cent of patients in the Middle East have thyroid disease.
“The thyroid, which is the largest gland in the neck, is a butterfly-shaped gland with left and right lobes that go around the trachea. The main function of the thyroid is to produce thyroid hormones, which regulate the body’s metabolism, growth and energy levels. The main hormones released by the thyroid are triiodothyronine, abbreviated as T3, and thyroxine, abbreviated as T4,” says Prof. Dr. Tahar Benhidjeb, Consultant – General Surgery, Chair of Surgery and Deputy Medical Director, Burjeel Hospital Abu Dhabi.
“The thyroid is linked to several common conditions linked to the production of the thyroid hormone or the gland itself. These include: hyperthyroidism (over production of the hormone); hypothyroidism (under production of the hormone), goiter (abnormal growth of the thyroid gland); formation of nodules or lumps (which can be solid or filled with liquid) within the thyroid, which could indicate the presence of thyroid cancer; thyroiditis, which is an inflammation of the gland, Hashimoto and Graves’ disease, which are autoimmune disorders,” added Dr. Tahar Benhidjeb.
These diseases can be caused by a number of factors ranging from genetic factors, pregnancy, auto-immune problems to stress, environmental toxins and nutritional deficiencies. Some of the symptoms that are seen in thyroid related conditions include sudden weight loss or gain, extreme fatigue, depression, mood swings, hair loss, muscle weakness, sleep disturbances and vision-related issues. Swellings in the neck area and visible nodules should also be checked. Neck pain, hoarseness, constant coughing or difficulty swallowing could also indicate thyroid cancer, said Dr. Tahar Benhidjeb.
Thyroid conditions can be diagnosed through a clinical evaluation, a range of tests to check the levels of thyroid hormones, imaging tests such as x-rays, MRIs, RAI-U (Radioactive Iodine Uptake) and ultrasound, biopsies using fine needle aspiration, tests including blood, antibodies, urine, saliva and iodine, self-tests for nodules.
“Most of the common thyroid conditions can be treated with radioactive iodine, anti-thyroid drugs that spur or suppress hormone production, or surgery which may be needed to remove nodules or cancerous growths. Radioiodine treatment involves the intake of a tablet or liquid, which contains radioactive iodine in amounts large enough to damage the cells of your thyroid gland and to limit or destroy their ability to produce hormones. Anti-thyroid drugs are the most commonly prescribed and involve regular monitoring,” stated Dr. Tahar Benhidjeb.
“Surgery is performed if the thyroid condition requires surgical intervention such as cancer or large nodules. This could involve the removal of partial sections or lobes (lobectomy), excess tissue or the removal of the thyroid (total thyroidectomy). The standard neck incision is made typically measuring about 3- 5 inches in length. However, at Burjeel Hospital, we use the minimally invasive surgical technique. We make a small 20mm incision in the neck (to perform a minimally invasive video-assisted thyroidectomy), which doesn’t leave any visible scar on the patient’s neck. In some cases, there is the possibility to avoid scarring in the neck by placing the incisions in the armpit and around the breast or on the chest wall. This so-called axillo bilateral breast approach (ABBA technique) belongs to the group of the “scar-less” surgery. ” said Dr. Tahar Benhidjeb, who is also the only physician in the UAE and Middle East who can perform these delicate surgeries.
Post-surgery, patients may be prescribed calcium and hormone thyroid replacement, said Dr. Tahar Benhidjeb. According to him, timely diagnosis is the key to getting the right treatment for thyroid conditions and ensuring its success as well.