Written By

College

College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

25 May 2021

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What does an endocrinologist do?

Have you ever given much thought to the small, butterfly-shaped gland that lives in your neck? This gland is called your thyroid gland. It plays an important role in your body by producing hormones that can help to regulate your energy, growth, metabolism, and your temperature. But for around 14 per cent of Australians, problems arising with the thyroid gland can cause a host of problems.

World Thyroid Day on May 25 offers us all the opportunity to better understand this small butterfly gland and raise awareness about what to do when things may go wrong.

Fortunately, endocrinologists like Kunwarjit Sangla, are here to help. Kunwarjit is an Adjunct Associate Professor at JCU as well as a specialist in General Medicine, Obstetric Medicine and Endocrinology at the Townsville Hospital. He has dedicated himself to both researching and treating the variety of thyroid diseases that many patients are faced with. He has more than 50 publications in peer-review journals and has also been invited as a guest speaker at conferences worldwide.

Endocrinologists like Kunwarjit are specialist medical professionals who assess and manage any thyroid disorders. He says that he finds his day-to-day practice rewarding. “There is satisfaction in being able to treat and diagnose uncommon presentations of both common and rare diseases,” he says.

Doctor's hands holding small thyroid model on desk surrounded by different medical instruments
Kunwarjit Sangla wearing a black suit with a red tie
Right: Adjunct Associate Professor Kunwarjit Sangla diagnoses and treats thyroid conditions in patients.

Working with your endocrinologist

Kunwarjit has specialised in endocrinology since 1996 but says that it can sometimes require a multidisciplinary team to provide care to patients as thyroid disease can affect multiple parts of the body. He says that he enjoys solving complex problems and finds satisfaction in being able to help his patients in the long-term.

Understanding thyroid problems requires a broad range of knowledge about the body’s function as well as specialist knowledge about the endocrine system. “I chose endocrinology because it is the specialty that intellectually stimulates you to understand and act on the interaction between all organ systems in the body,” he says.

It is important to recognize the variety of symptoms that can accompany thyroid disease. “It can develop in any person irrespective of age or sex and may or may not be accompanied with symptoms,” he says.  “Endocrinology is a continually evolving field and it keeps you on your toes. You have you keep up with the times.”

Kunwarjit has contributed research into thyroid problems relating to everything from hypothyroidism during pregnancy to its effects on bone mineral density.

“You have to put into practice basic sciences such as biochemistry, cell biology, and genetics directly into patient care. It requires a broader perspective and knowledge base. There is the satisfaction of being able to treat and diagnose uncommon presentations of common as well as rare diseases.”

JCU Adjunct Associate Professor Kunwarjit Sangla

Understanding thyroid problems

While many thyroid diseases are treatable, they are often chronic conditions that require ongoing management. “Being a clinician of people with chronic diseases allows you to develop long-term relationships supporting people through their life journey,” he says.

“The most common problems we see are autoimmune thyroiditis with hypothyroidism, also known as Hashimoto’s disease, and Graves’ disease, which involves an overactive thyroid,” Kunwarjit says. “We also see a lot of patients who are sent to us with suspicious nodules to rule out thyroid malignancy.” While hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces insufficient thyroid hormone, hyperthyroidism occurs when it produces too much thyroid hormone.

Sometimes there can be challenges in battling misconceptions about the variety of thyroid conditions. According to Kunwarjit, understanding the effects of thyroid conditions on weight management can be confusing for some patients. “For example, a common misconception is that a person can’t lose weight with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or hypothyroidism. Actually, if the thyroid hormone replacement is correct then there is no reason you can’t lose weight,” he says.

On the other hand, avoiding treatment can also lead to more health complications. He says that it is a common misunderstanding that individuals with Graves’ disease can maintain their weight by not getting it treated. “Untreated Graves’ disease can cause heart problems including heart failure and heart rhythm issues,” he explains. “Besides this, it can also cause mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia.”

If you suspect there may be something going awry with your thyroid function, you should speak to your GP who can refer you to a specialist endocrinologist. While thyroid conditions can effect more than 1 in 10 Australians, the research and treatment of these conditions are improving every day.

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