Many people don’t realise how vital their thyroid is, and what an important role it plays in ensuring their body functions properly.
So, what exactly is your thyroid?
Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland situated at the front of your neck. It is wrapped around your trachea (windpipe) and is responsible for regulating many functions in your body.
Your thyroid releases hormones into your bloodstream, which help to control your heart rate, the development of your brain, and bone growth.
Since your thyroid gland controls and maintains many aspects of your body, if it isn’t working properly, then it will dramatically affect how your body functions, and, ultimately, your health.
It is worth noting that up to 60% of people who have thyroid disease are unaware of their condition. This is because many symptoms develop slowly over a long period of time so they can often go undetected.
People can suffer from hypothyroidism, which is when someone has an underactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, which is when someone has an overactive thyroid. An underactive thyroid won’t produce enough hormones, and an overactive thyroid will produce too many. Both of these conditions fall under the term thyroid disease.
Thyroid surgery may be recommended by a doctor if they have detected a nodule that could be thyroid cancer. However, in most cases, people suffering from an underactive or overactive thyroid can be given treatment, such as hormone replacement tablets.
So that you can recognise the symptoms caused by thyroid disease, we have put together a list of possible signs to look out for.
If you’ve experienced sudden weight gain or weight loss, then this could indicate thyroid problems. Since your thyroid controls your metabolism, then this can have a dramatic effect on your weight.
Gaining weight could be the result of having an underactive thyroid. On the other hand, losing a significant amount of weight could be caused by having an overactive thyroid.
Hypothyroidism can slow down a person’s metabolism, which is why someone may experience sudden weight gain, whereas hyperthyroidism can speed up a person’s metabolism, which can then result in weight loss.
Muscle weakness or a constant lack of energy can both be signs of thyroid disease, typically caused by having an underactive thyroid. If you’re experiencing a heightened feeling of tiredness, which is growing worse over time, then you may be suffering from hypothyroidism.
However, if you’re struggling to sleep, then this could be due to you having an overactive thyroid. The increased thyroid activity can cause a person to be more irritable, to urinate more frequently, and to break out in sweats, which can make sleeping difficult and can lead to insomnia.
An overactive or underactive thyroid can cause mood swings, anxiety, and/or depression.
Your thyroid stabilises your mood, so any change in hormone levels, caused by too many or too few hormones being released into your bloodstream, will affect your emotions.
Thyroid disease can affect your mood in many ways. For example, depression can be the result of hypothyroidism, whereas hyperthyroidism can cause anxiety.
If you are noticeably more hyperactive than usual, or with bundles of energy that you’re struggling to drain, it could be down to a hormone imbalance caused by thyroid disease.
As previously mentioned, hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid releases too many hormones into your bloodstream which then causes an increased metabolism. This can trigger irritability and can make a person feel like they can’t sit still.
If you have an overactive thyroid, it speeds up bodily functions which can lead to bowel problems, such as more frequent bowel movements or even diarrhoea.
However, if you have an underactive thyroid, it can cause the opposite problem, such as constipation due to your bodily functions being slowed down.
Thyroid disease can result in a woman experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding and/or irregular periods.
If a woman’s bleeding is heavy, then it could be the result of having an overactive thyroid, whereas an underactive thyroid will slow down body functions which in turn can slow down the menstrual cycle.
For women, an undiagnosed issue can also affect fertility. This is because if hormone levels are low, then it may prevent ovulation.
Women with undiagnosed hyperthyroidism are also more at risk of problems during pregnancy. For example, they could suffer from pre-eclampsia, which is a type of fit, or they may miscarriage.
These symptoms usually develop slowly, usually over several years, so they aren’t always easy to detect. However, for someone who is concerned about any symptoms that they are experiencing, thyroid tests are available. The test involves examining a sample of blood in order to measure a person’s hormone levels.
The Travel Health Clinic offers a thyroid function kit that enables you to check your hormone levels, and how well your thyroid gland is functioning.