People living in private estates more likely to be effectively treated for thyroid disorder: Study

SINGAPORE - People who live in private estates are more likely to be effectively treated for a thyroid disorder, according to a new study published by SingHealth Polyclinics.

The study, which was released on Monday (June 5), looked at 229 patients with a common thyroid disorder known as hypothyroidism and found that people who lived in private estates were more likely to achieve normal hormone levels with medication as compared to those who lived in public estates.

Dr Tan Ngiap Chuan, who led the study, suggested that a reason for this could be that higher socio-economic statuses are often related to higher education levels.

This group of people may, therefore, communicate better with their doctors and be in a better position to stick to a medication regime, said Dr Tan, who is the director of research at SingHealth Polyclinics.

The study, which was published in February in the Medicine journal, suggests that a major issue preventing effective treatment of hypothyroidism is patients who do not adhere to the medication routine advised by their doctors.

According to the study, only half of the patients surveyed took their medication regularly.

Dr Tan said that this makes it very difficult for doctors to adjust dosages for patients as hormone levels in the body would not be reflective of the prescription, and could cause doctors to prescribe too little or too much the following time.

Furthermore, the tablet form of the medication only comes in fixed dosages like 25mcg, 50mcg and 100mcg. This already makes it difficult to tailor dosages for each individual, he said.

Typical medicine regimes would involve taking tablets daily, on alternate days or segmented dosages - for example, taking a certain dosage on weekdays and switching to another on weekends.

Dr Cho Li Wei, who was involved in the study, stressed that the treatment for hypothyroidism does not involve any chemicals, but is just a simple hormone replacement treatment.

"It is important for people to remember that this is a lifelong treatment and they cannot stop halfway," said Dr Cho, a consultant at Changi General Hospital's department of endocrinology.

Hypothyroidism occurs when insufficient thyroxine hormone is produced by the thyroid. Thyroxine hormones affect growth and metabolism in the body.

Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include hair loss, lethargy, weight gain and cold intolerance, said Dr Cho. It is best diagnosed through a blood test. If left untreated, it could lead to serious complications such as heart disease, infertility and even thyroid cancer.

Thyroid disorders are most common in women aged 20-50. Women are also four times more likely to develop a thyroid disorder than men.