The thyroid gland is small a butterfly-shaped organ located in the neck; it is so small that it weighs about 28 grams. This organ is a vital hormone gland which plays a major role in metabolism, growth, and development of the human body. The thyroid takes iodine from food and converts it into thyroid hormones - thyroxine (T4), triiodothyronine (T3), and calcitonin. These hormones are then released into the rest of the body to regulate metabolism.
When the thyroid gland fails in its functions, a condition called hypothyroidism, the body will gradually cease to function properly. Without proper testing, it’s not easy to tell that your thyroid is acting up and the symptoms can be easily mistaken for depression or dementia in older patients. However, when diagnosed early and properly, most thyroid problems can be treated and managed.
Ask for thyroid hormone test - a blood test which measures levels of thyroid stimulating hormone and T4 - if you suspect that your thyroid might be the culprit. Bear in mind that women are 10 times more likely than men to experience problems with their thyroid gland. Additionally, if you are more than 60, you should be screened for subclinical hypothyroidism whether or not you have symptoms.
There are various reasons why your thyroid could go haywire, including genetic, an autoimmune attack, pregnancy, stress, nutritional deficiencies, or environmental toxins.
Thyroid problems can range from a small, harmless swelling (enlarged gland) called a goiter, to life-threatening. There are six main thyroid problems:
Hypothyroidism - underactive thyroid
Hyperthyroidism - overactive thyroid
Thyroiditis- inflammation of the thyroid
Goiter - enlarged thyroid which can cause overactive thyroid
Thyroid nodules - lumps which can lead to overactive thyroid
Thyroid cancer - a rare cancer affecting the thyroid whose symptoms include a lump in the neck and soreness
You feel exhausted
Feeling chronically fatigued is associated with many conditions, including hypothyroidism - a disorder which results from the thyroid producing too little hormones. If your muscle cells are not getting enough thyroid hormones, they won’t feel sufficiently ‘fired up’ and you will feel constantly worn-out, even after a good night’s sleep.
You are depressed or anxious
Some cases of depression can be linked to a malfunctioning thyroid gland. How? It’s thought that when the thyroid doesn’t produce sufficient levels of T4 and T3 hormones, this can have an impact on the feel good hormone, serotonin. On the other hand, those with hyperthyroidism can experience anxiety, nervousness, or agitation. Depression and hypothyroidism share so many symptoms that doctors might overlook that a patient being treated for depression actually has low thyroid levels. Studies show that patients suffering from both hypothyroidism and depression respond better to thyroid-replacement medication than anti-depressants.
Increased or decreased appetite
Do you feel like you can eat a whole elephant? Because thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, the level of these hormones in your bloodstream has an impact on how ravenous you feel. An underactive thyroid can decrease your appetite, while an overactive one can stimulate it. You may notice that you’re eating more and not gaining weight, or eating less and gaining weight.
Losing or gaining weight
If you are gaining weight you can’t seem to shake off, this might be a sign that you need to have your thyroid tested. When the body doesn’t have enough thyroid hormones, metabolism throughout all of your body tissues and cells slows down - which means less energy is being used and hence weight gain. On the other hand, if your thyroid is overactive, your metabolism might be too ramped up for your own good- which can lead to weight loss. Weight issues from thyroid problems usually develop gradually and may not be noticeable at first.
If you’ve always had a regular cycle but it starts to get more frequent and lighter, it could be a sign of an overactive thyroid gland. Less frequent and heavier menses can point to an underactive thyroid gland. Anytime your previously regular menstrual cycle become irregular, it can potentially increase your risk of infertility.
Dry skin and brittle hair
People suffering from thyroid problems often have dry skin and hair which is dry and brittle. Doctors are not sure why it happens but it is said that as thyroid hormones affect the overall health of your body, it also compromises your skin cells and sebaceous glands. If your thyroid problem is advanced, brittle hair can gradually lead to significant hair loss. With an overactive thyroid, sometimes the skin can also become noticeably oilier.
Losing interest in sex can be one of the signs of a thyroid disorder. Too little thyroid hormones can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, low energy, depression, and body aches- all of which can lower your libido.
People suffering from hypothyroidism often complain of bloating and constipation. This is because a slowed metabolism can also lead to slower digestion. On the reverse, an overactive thyroid can cause diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements.
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