A campaign backed by Merck Serono is looking to raise awareness of thyroid disorders, which affects more than 300 million, although over half are thought to be unaware of the problem.

The first ever International Thyroid Awareness Week began yesterday and the company is working with the Thyroid Federation International to raise awareness of thyroid dysfunctions and their consequences. The campaign was launched last month at the European Congress of Endocrinology meeting in Istanbul where academics and the president of TFI, Yvonne Andersson, noted that millions of people are suffering needlessly because they are unaware of the symptoms and impact of thyroid disorders.

One of the problems is that the symptoms are common to other conditions, so the correct diagnosis can be missed. People with an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) may feel tired, depressed, gain weight unexpectedly and have fertility problems, while heart disease, psychosis and coma can occur if the problem is not tackled. The risk of heart attacks and stroke is increased by overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) and can also have a devasting effect on pregnant women and the developing foetus.

Ms Andersson told the briefing in Istanbul that thyroid dysfunctions can be easily detected with a simple, and in most countries cheap, blood test to check a patient’s TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). Treatment is normally required for life but can be successfully managed, with treatments such as Merck’s Euthyrox (levothyroxine) and Thyrozol (thiamazole).

Ms Andersson told PharmaTimes World News that she has been inspired by the leaps that patient organisations have made in areas such as cervical cancer and hopes that working with medical professionals and spreading the word through awareness campaigns can help tackle a disorder that is “worryingly under-recognised”.