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iPhone May One Day Help Doctors Diagnose Thyroid Disorders

thyroid disorders, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism

Smartphones continue to get smarter, with applications that not only help manage our lives, but also may help us achieve better health. A new app and a specially-designed device made for Apple’s iPhone could one day help doctors diagnose and manage the treatment of certain thyroid disorders.

Millions of people in the United States have thyroid diseases, most of them women. The thyroid gland makes hormones which help set metabolism – how the body gets energy from the foods we eat. When the gland is not active enough (hypothyroidism), a person can gain weight, feel fatigued and have difficulty dealing with colder temperatures. It may also be a cause of weight gain. If the gland is too active (hyperthyroidism), a person can have a rapid heart rate and be very sensitive to heat.

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Hypothyroidism is more common than hyperthyroidism. The common treatment includes taking synthetic T4 (levothyroxine) to bring hormone levels back to the normal range.

To test for thyroid dysfunction, the doctor first orders a TSH test. The thyroid-stimulating hormone stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroxine (T4) and then triiodothyronine(T3) which ultimately is the hormone that stimulates metabolism. TSH values between 0.4 and 4 mlU/L are considered normal.

A team of researchers from the University of Utah have developed a device that uses the iPhone’s LED flash and digital camera features to feed an image into an application that ultimately converts the data into TSH values. Research that compares the device to standard TSH immunochromoatographic assays indicates that the iPhone device was able to detect whole-blood concentrations as low as 0.1 mlU/L. This is an improvement over current methods, as the standard test has limited ability to detect low TSH values.

Reference: 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Thyroid Association (ATA) in Quebec City, Canada, held Sept. 19-23.