On May 26th, the World Thyroid Week, dedicated to information and prevention for citizens around the world, got underway. Humanitas also participates and adheres to this seven-day event with free prevention, awareness and consultation initiatives. And since much of the information today passes through the web and social networks, we talked about the thyroid and its diseases with Prof. Andrea Lania, head of Endocrinology in Humanitas and professor at Humanitas University, and Prof. Furio Pacini, endocrinologist in Humanitas during a live Facebook.

Here are some of the advice from specialists and some of the questions from the public ‘social’.

How to keep your thyroid healthy

The thyroid gland is a gland located between the larynx and trachea, at the base of the anterior portion of the neck. Under the constant control of the pituitary gland, the role of the thyroid gland is to produce and secrete the thyroid hormones necessary for the growth and development of the body.

To keep her healthy “is not difficult – explains Prof. Lania -: to function at its best it needs an element that in our country unfortunately is not so widespread and that we find only in food, that is iodine. There is not a specific daily quantity but it is enough to use it daily”.

Iodine is found only in the added salt, not in the sea salt, neither in the pink salt of the Himalayas, nor in the black salt. Another food that contains an appreciable amount of iodine is sea fish.

Until 40 years ago, the consumption and the use of iodised salt was very low, Professor Pacini said, recalling how, thanks to the “endocrinology experts of Pisa, who began a major information campaign to get salt added to iodine to arrive in Italy as well as in other countries in Northern Europe, it also arrived in supermarkets and large retailers”. After this battle, a law was also passed that provides not only that shopkeepers display iodized salt, but also that it is used in canteens, barracks, restaurants, hotels, etc. Thanks to this, in the last twenty years the absorption and use of iodine has increased from 20% to almost 80% of the population.

And the lifestyle, how much does it matter for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland? It is important in almost all diseases, but not in this case: “the thyroid, which serves to regulate metabolism, does so regardless of the lifestyles we have. The only thing to consume with constancy is the added salt”, clarified Prof. Pacini.

Symptoms difficult to recognize

There are no real symptoms for thyroid diseases and disorders. Unfortunately “it is not easy to recognize the symptoms related to the malfunction of the thyroid – explained Prof. Laina – because they are often non-specific. Rather, it is the combination of several symptoms that lead the general practitioner and the patient to consult a specialist and endocrinologist”.

How important is genetic predisposition?

Some autoimmune thyroid diseases certainly have a genetic predisposition, but this shouldn’t be confused with heredity as the specialists point out: having a genetic predisposition means, for example, that the disorder could be passed down in the family but by skipping a few generations.

The main pathologies

Thyroid disorders and diseases can be grouped into three broad categories: goiter, with or without the presence of nodules, which in most cases are benign; autoimmune thyroid diseases such as “Hashimoto’s thyroiditis”; the known hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, with their respective excessive or low production of thyroid hormones; and finally thyroid tumors.

Diagnoses in Humanitas

In Humanitas you can perform simple examinations with which to check the state of the gland’s health: it is the ultrasound, which is the examination “more specific and rich in information for the morphological study of the thyroid,” explained Lania again. “To obtain further information, blood is taken and, if necessary, a cytological (cell) examination is carried out”.

Some of the live questions

Can people with Hashimoto’s thyroid disease and menopause gain weight?
Weight gain only occurs if the thyroid becomes hypothyroid, or if an inadequate amount of medication is taken with a previously diagnosed hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s thyroid does not lead to weight gain in itself.

Not having a thyroid gland is a risk in case of pregnancy?

No, none. Women who no longer have a thyroid gland will certainly be carrying out replacement therapy. The normalization of the therapy leads these women to a quiet pregnancy. However, as the hormone requirement changes during pregnancy, adjustments to the therapy by the specialist may be necessary. More frequent check-ups will also be necessary.

Which therapy is best for a toxic nodule?

The toxic nodule is a very rare condition from which unfortunately it is not cured and which must be treated with a definitive therapy, i.e. the removal of the nodule or alternatively a therapy based on radioactive iodine that enters the nodule and destroys it.

When does it become necessary to operate on a nodule?
Each case must be evaluated by the specialist; there is no measure beyond which it becomes necessary to operate and remove the nodule. It becomes necessary to operate if and when this formation impacts on nearby structures, such as the trachea or esophagus and if, once the needle is aspirated, the specialist has reason to suspect any thyroid neoplasia.

Can mood changes be related to a thyroid disorder?

Like other non-specific symptoms, also mood changes can be associated with other symptoms in the evaluation and diagnosis of a thyroid disorder: generally, for example, inappetence and irritability are linked to a situation of hyperthyroidism; on the contrary, incuption is more frequent in hypothyroid women. In any case, it is important to remember that although they have been investigated, they must be contextualized together with other symptoms.

The fake news of sea air containing iodine

Iodine is dissolved only in water and is not in the air, so stays at the sea do not cure or prevent or give benefits to those suffering from thyroid diseases.