The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped endocrine gland in the neck, just in front of your windpipe (trachea) and produces hormones that are necessary for all the cells in your body to work normally.
It produces hormones that affect things such as your heart rate and body temperature. One of its main functions is to produce hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism. These hormones are called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).
What can go wrong with your thyroid?
The two main things that can go wrong with your thyroid are Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
This is where your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroxine.
The symptoms of an underactive thyroid can include fatigue, weight gain and feelings of depression, being particularly sensitive to the cold, aching muscles & dry skin and hair. If an underactive thyroid isn’t treated, it can lead to complications, including heart disease and problems in pregnancy.
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid usually develop slowly, so you may not notice them for a number of years. The only accurate way of finding out whether you have a thyroid problem is to have a thyroid function test, where a blood sample is tested to measure your hormone levels.
There’s no way of preventing an underactive thyroid. Most cases are caused either by the immune system attacking the thyroid gland and damaging it, or by damage to the thyroid that occurs during treatments for an overactive thyroid or from thyroid cancer.
Who does this affect?
Both men and women can have an underactive thyroid, although it’s more common in women. Children can also develop an underactive thyroid and some babies are born with it.
60% of those who suffer from a thyroid disorder are unaware of their condition.
Treatments for an underactive thyroid
The good news is that an underactive thyroid can often be successfully treated by taking daily hormone replacement tablets to raise your thyroxine levels.
You’ll usually need treatment for the rest of your life. However, with proper treatment, you should be able to lead a normal, healthy life.
Hyperthyroidism or Thyrotoxicosis (overactive thyroid)
This is where the thyroid gland produces too much thyroxine.
Having too much of these hormones can cause unpleasant and potentially serious problems that may require treatment.
Who does this affect?
An overactive thyroid can affect anyone, but it’s about 10 times more common in women than it is in men, and typically happens between the ages of 20 and 40. It’s also more common than having an underactive thyroid.
The symptoms of an underactive thyroid can include nervousness, anxiety and mood swings, trouble sleeping, chronic fatigue, swelling of the neck, heart palpitations and weight loss.
If an overactive thyroid isn’t treated or well controlled it can lead to further issues, including eye problems, pregnancy complications or a thyroid storm, which is a sudden and potentially fatal flare-up of symptoms.
Again, the only accurate way of finding out whether you have a thyroid problem is to have a thyroid function test, where a blood sample measures your hormone levels. If the blood test shows that you have an overactive thyroid, you may be referred for further tests to identify the cause.
An overactive thyroid is usually treatable with medication, radiotherapy or in some cases, surgery to remove part or all of your thyroid (a thyroidectomy).
Each of these treatments has pros and cons to which you’d discuss with an endocrinologist (a specialist in hormonal conditions) to discuss which treatment would be most suitable.
What causes an overactive thyroid?
There are several reasons why your thyroid can become overactive, including Graves’ disease (common in people with hyperthyroidism); Nodules on the thyroid and some medications that are used to treat arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat).
What to do next?
Unsure if you may be suffering from these symptoms, then get an at-home test kit and find out once and for all.