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Common Thyroid Problems: What to Look Out For

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The thyroid, a small butterfly-shaped gland that is located at the base of the neck (just in front of the windpipe), produces the hormones responsible for coordinating growth, energy and metabolism within the body. If thyroid levels become either too high or too low (meaning it’s producing too much or too little hormone), several different health problems or disorders can occur.

Studies have shown approximately 12% of people worldwide will experience some form of thyroid disorder in their lifetime, so it’s important to know the common problems to look out for, so you can speak to your GP about them.

Overactive Thyroid

An overactive thyroid is where the thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormone. It’s sometimes referred to as hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxicosis. Though anyone can suffer from an overactive thyroid, the condition is approximately 10 times more common in women than in men, and typically occurs between 20 and 40 years of age. Having too many of these hormones can result in potentially serious health problems that may need treatment, so it’s important to look out for the signs as early as possible.

An overactive thyroid can cause a wide range of symptoms, including those listed below. If you have any of these symptoms, speak to your GP to see if you need a blood test to check for a thyroid problem. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid can include-

  • Mood swings
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Nervousness, anxiety and irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Swelling in the neck (from an enlarged thyroid gland-goitre)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Twitching or trembling
  • Persistent tiredness or weakness
  • An irregular and/or an unusually fast heart rate (palpitations)

Underactive Thyroid

An underactive thyroid gland, also known as hypothyroidism, is when the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones. An underactive thyroid can often be treated successfully by taking a daily hormone tablet, as this replaces the hormones that the thyroid isn’t producing.

In most cases, an underactive thyroid is caused by either the immune system attacking the thyroid gland resulting in it becoming damaged, or by the damage that occurs on the thyroid as a result of treatments for an overactive thyroid or thyroid cancer. Though there isn’t any way of preventing an underactive thyroid, these are some of the symptoms that the condition includes, and you should speak to your GP if you have any of the following-

  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Being sensitive to the cold
  • Depression
  • Muscle aches
  • Dry skin
  • Dry hair
  • Constipation

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Also known as Chronic Lymphocytic Thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is a disease that occurs when the body’s immune system wrongly attacks and slowly destroys the thyroid gland, along with its ability to produce hormones. Though the disease can occur at any age, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is most common in middle-aged women, and is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the US. Though the symptoms of the condition aren’t obvious (and the disease can remain stable for years due to subtle symptoms that can mimic those of other conditions), here are some of the symptoms related to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis-

  • Depression
  • Dry skin
  • Mild weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Dry and thinning hair
  • Intolerance to the cold
  • A pale and puffy face
  • Heavy and irregular menstruation
  • An enlarged thyroid (goitre)

Thyroid Nodules

Thyroid nodules are growths that form on or in the thyroid gland and can either be solid or filled with fluid. Though most cases of thyroid nodules are benign, they can be cancerous in a small number of cases. As with many other thyroid conditions, nodules are more likely in women than in men, however the risk of developing them increases in age for both sexes.

The cause of thyroid nodules isn’t known; however, the condition can be related to iodine deficiency or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. If the nodules grow large enough, they can lead to not only pain but also a difficulty in breathing and swallowing. If the nodules are associated with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the symptoms experienced will be similar to hypothyroidism, including-

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Weight gain
  • Cold intolerance
  • Dry skin

However, if the nodules produce an abnormally high level of the thyroid hormone in the bloodstream, the symptoms experienced will be similar to those of hyperthyroidism, including-

  • Weight loss
  • Clammy skin
  • An increased appetite
  • A high pulse rate
  • Twitching or tremors
  • Nervousness

Grave’s Disease

Named by the doctor who first discovered it, Grave’s Disease is an autoimmune disorder that also occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland, resulting in the gland overproducing the hormone responsible for regulating metabolism. Grave’s disease is a hereditary disease and can develop at any age in men and women (though is more common in women aged 20-39 years old).

Further risk factors of the condition include smoking, stress and pregnancy. Due to the high level of thyroid hormone that the disease produces in the bloodstream, the symptoms of Grave’s disease are common to those of hyperthyroidism, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • An increased or irregular heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Bulging eyes or vision problems
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tremors
  • Altered menstrual cycle
  • Diarrhoea or frequent bowel movements.

If you are concerned about your health or thyroid, do not hesitate to visit a health professional.