Among common health complaints, issues with the thyroid can be difficult to identify. The symptoms are subtle and easily confused with other ailments. In fact, it’s easy to write off many of the warning signs as side effects of a busy life in the 21st Century. This means that many people live with thyroid concerns for years without even realising it.

The thyroid is a gland located in the human throat, close to the windpipe. This gland releases two hormones into the body. Triiodothyronine (aka T3) provides the body with thyroxine (or T4), which is also released directly by the thyroid gland. These hormones are essential for a healthy, active and fully functional set of organs.

Sometimes, the thyroid gland does not work appropriately. Thyroid issues are very common, especially in women. Females are up to twenty times more likely to experience thyroid issues than males. These health complaints can also be hereditary.

The most common issues surrounding the thyroid are hyperthyroidism, which is an over-active thyroid, or hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid. These conditions usually start to manifest in adulthood, between the ages of 20 and 40. They can be present in infants, however. New-born babies will be tested very early in life for warning signs of hypothyroidism. If left untreated, this condition can lead to physical or mental developmental delays.


Symptoms and Impact of Hyperthyroidism

If you have an overactive thyroid, your body will release excessive amounts of triiodothyronine and thyroxine. This can lead to a range of symptoms, including:

  • Restlessness, feelings of anxiety and irritability.
  • Muscle tremors.
  • A swollen or enlarged neck.
  • Heart palpitations, or a high resting heart rate.
  • Sensitivity to heat and feeling warm all the time.
  • Sudden and inexplicable weight loss.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, make an appointment with your GP for a blood test. Usually, this will reveal an excess of hormones in the blood. A treatment plan can then be drawn up. In some cases, further testing may be required. Treatment will depend upon the root cause of your hyperthyroidism.


Causes of, and Treatment for, Hyperthyroidism

In most cases, Graves’ disease causes hyperthyroidism. This is an autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system mistakes the thyroid gland for an intruder and attacks it. In some cases, however, hyperthyroidism is a side effect of medication treating other conditions. Treatments for irregular heart rates are often linked to hyperthyroidism. Throat nodules can also lead to this condition.

If you suspect that you are living with hyperthyroidism, see your doctor. If caught early and treated appropriately, this condition does not need to be a major concern.

If applicable, your doctor will prescribe you with thionamides. These are medications that control the production of hormones from the thyroid gland. Propylthiouracil and carbimazole are the most common-issued prescriptions. You will need to take these medications for life.

If medication does not help, you may need surgical intervention. This will be so that some of the thyroid gland can be removed. This, in turn, will reduce the number of hormones produced. Another alternative is radioiodine treatment. This is a form of radiotherapy that destroys elements of the thyroid and reduces the ability to release hormones.

A healthcare professional will discuss your options with you. Together, you can decide upon the ideal treatment plan for your overactive thyroid. Once you had the condition under control, you will be able to live a regular, full and unimpeded life.


Symptoms and Impact of Hypothyroidism

Sometimes, the thyroid gland does not release enough triiodothyronine and thyroxine. As these hormones are critical to the body, their absence will be felt. However, hypothyroidism will not cause sudden organ failure or critical illness. It may take quite some time for you to notice the warning signs. Common symptoms of an underactive thyroid are:

  • Feeling tired all of the time.
  • Aching muscles and limbs, especially the legs.
  • Feeling particularly sensitive to the cold.
  • Skin and hair feeling dry and flaky to the touch.
  • Low mood and depression.
  • Weight gain or struggling to lose weight no matter how much you exercise.

It’s problems with weight that usually bring hypothyroidism to light. If you eat healthily and exercise regularly but still seem to gain weight, it’s worth speaking to a doctor. In addition, many GPs will ask for a blood test if you present to them with depression. The link between hypothyroidism and mental health has become increasingly apparent in recent years.


Causes of, and Treatment for, Hypothyroidism

Most often, an underactive thyroid is hereditary. If one of your parents lives with the condition, you are likely to inherit it. Hypothyroidism can also stem from the thyroid gland being placed under attack through illness, however. In addition, some hyperthyroid patients later develop hypothyroid as a result of medication or treatment.

Thankfully, treating hypothyroidism is comparatively straightforward. Your doctor will prescribe you with Levothyroxine, a tablet that is to be taken once a day. This prescription will bolster hormone production and balance out the underactive thyroid.

As a result, your symptoms will be managed, and your body will respond. However, there may be a period of trial and error before the appropriate dosage is found. You will need to undergo a series of blood tests in the first 6-12 months of your diagnosis.

There is no reason why anybody with an underactive thyroid cannot live a full and active life. If you continue to take Levothyroxine, your body will respond appropriately. You will be using this medication for life though, so ensure that you always maintain an up-to-date prescription.


Serious Thyroid Concerns

Most of the time, a thyroid issue will be due to hyper – or hypothyroidism. Occasionally however, the problem may be more serious in nature. The gland may struggle to operate due to a pituitary malfunction or a cancerous tumour.

With this mind, don’t delay in asking a healthcare professional to investigate a potential thyroid issue. This could be the difference between a quick and simple treatment or invasive surgery.


Written by Bev Walton, BSc Nutritional Science

I achieved a First-Class Honours degree in BSc Nutritional Science, Nutrition Sciences from the University of Reading and now have over 35 years experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for magazines and websites as well as ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I’m also a proud member of the Guild of Food writers.

Bev Walton | University of Reading BSc Nutritional Science, Nutrition Sciences

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