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 underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) and overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).
Thyroid disorders are particularly harmful for older people, people with cardiovascular disease and pregnant women. Pregnant women are more likely to experience miscarriage and impaired fetal development if they have a thyroid disorder.
Thyroid disorders are also a risk factor for other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), for example, heart disease. When compared with healthy adults, people with overactive thyroid have a 38% higher chance of developing heart disease and people with underactive thyroid – 89% higher chance.
Symptoms of underactive thyroid include weight gain, fatigue, depression, memory problems, muscle weakness and, in children, impaired development. Overactive thyroid 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: 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, affecting the health of future mothers and children, people with NCD and elderly people. As populations are ageing and people tend to 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 in Latin America is on the rise and often coexists with hypothyroidism, but the complex association between the two conditions can make it difficult to identify hypothyroidism in people with obesity.