After six hours of commuting to and fro from office each day, Namita Narula, 23, assistant manager in a public relations firm, had little time to eat and sleep.
She ate out most days. Working late hours meant hitting the bed at 2am. That was six months ago.
"I was constantly fatigued and became very short-tempered. Within a few months, I gained weight, my complexion grew dark and my periods got irregular," says Narula.
She was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland cannot make enough hormones to keep the body's metabolism running properly.
Hypothyroidism (underactive gland) causes weight gain, fatigue, constipation, intolerance to cold and heat, irregular periods, and hair loss. Hyperthyroidism (overactive gland) causes unexplained weight loss, palpitations and excessive sweating.
Narula is not alone with a hormonal imbalance. While in her case, unhealthy lifestyle was circumstantial, doctors say many young people deliberately play with their health.
Like many teenagers, Neha Munshi, 17, subsisted on potato chips, French fries, pastries, cookies and colas.
Two years ago, she developed severe acne and excessive facial hair. When a dermatologist couldn't help, she was asked to undergo an ultrasound of the pelvis. It showed markedly enlarged ovaries and cysts.
One in three women between 12 and 45 years suffers from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which interferes with ovulation, leading to infertility.
The first line of treatment for all lifestyle-related diseases includes cutting down on refined food rich in sugar and carbohydrates and regular exercise, at least 30 minutes of brisk walk daily.
"There is no cure. It can only be controlled by eating healthy and exercising regularly. In severe cases, mild doses of oral contraceptives are prescribed," says Dr Anuradha Kapur, senior consultant, obstetrics and gynaecology, Max Hospital, Saket.
Narula, for one, has shifted to eating mostly home-cooked food; increasing her fluid intake and going for walks each day.
"It's been six months. Now I sleep better, my temper is well under control and the tiredness has gone down. I weigh just fine now," she says.
Hypothyroidism cannot, however, be used as an excuse to explain being overweight, warn experts.
"The weight gain due to hypothyroidism is minor, maybe not more than 5kg of a person's body weight. Unlike diabetes, thyroid symptoms are reversible with treatment," said Dr DK Dhanwal, professor of medicine and endocrinology, Maulana Azad Medical College and Lok Nayak Hospital, who is a part of a national study on thyroid disorders.
"Simple blood tests such as TSH, T3, T4 can detect the problem," Dhanwal added.
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