Thyroid disorders in Latin America

Thyroid disorders occur when the thyroid gland produces insufficient or excess thyroid hormones, and can be particularly harmful for older people or pregnant women.

Thyroid disorders in Latin America

Thyroid disorders occur when the thyroid gland produces insufficient or excess thyroid hormones, and can be particularly harmful for older people or pregnant women.

Context

Thyroid hormones, which are produced by the thyroid gland in the neck, are essential for normal bodily function. Thyroid disorders occur when there is an imbalance in the production of these hormones. The most common types are hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).

Thyroid disorders are particularly harmful for older people, people with cardiovascular disease and pregnant women. For example, pregnant women with thyroid disorders are more likely to experience miscarriage and impaired fetal development.

They are also a risk factor for other non-communicable diseases (NCDs). For example, in comparison with healthy adults, people with hyperthyroidism a 38% higher chance of developing heart disease. This rises to an 89% higher chance of developing heart disease for people with hypothyroidism.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, fatigue, depression, memory problems, muscle weakness and impaired development in children. Hyperthyroidism, meanwhile, may have symptoms such as sudden weight loss, fatigue, mood swings, rapid heartbeat, increased appetite, muscle weakness and heat intolerance.

Timely detection and treatment are crucial. Testing is reliable and relatively inexpensive as thyroid hormone levels are assessed via a blood test. But awareness of thyroid disorders is low and delays to diagnosis are common.

Thyroid disorders are a public health issue impacting maternal and child health, NCD reduction and healthy ageing. As people age and live with multiple health conditions, early detection and optimal treatment of thyroid disorders will become increasingly essential.

Latin American countries face specific challenges in tackling thyroid disorders, not least because data on the health and economic burden are limited and fragmented. In addition, obesity is on the rise in Latin America, and often coexists with hypothyroidism, but the complex association between the two conditions can make it difficult to identify hypothyroidism in people with obesity.

%

Approximately 4–10% of the global population have hypothyroidism

%

Almost 20% of Latin American physicians do not perform any screening for hypothyroidism in pregnancy

%

The risk-based approach currently used may miss 30–55% of pregnant women with hypothyroidism

What we achieved

HPP was approached by Merck to develop an internal policy narrative and policy engagement plan for thyroid disorders in Latin America, along with four external-facing policy briefs focusing on Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. The project involved desk research supported by interviews with several Merck colleagues and clinicians from the four highlighted countries. The policy briefs were produced in both English and the local language.

Key partners and stakeholders

HPP interviewed 11 clinicians from Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico for this project.

This project was initiated and funded by Merck.