Body & Fitness

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You’re always tired, even though you get a good night’s sleep. You can’t lose weight, despite sticking rigidly to a diet. Your skin is horribly dry, your hair is thinning, and your memory is completely shot. You may think these symptoms are all part of getting older and you just have to put up with them. But they could be due to a medical problem – one that can be easily fixed.

Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is surprisingly common. It’s thought that at least 10% of women over 60 years of age have it while some US studies suggest up to a quarter of all women will develop it. oost sufferers start to show signs in their forties but because the symptoms may come on gradually and not seem to be major, many women don’t do anything about it. The symptoms may also be associated with other ailments, so the fact they’re caused by the thyroid may not be picked up.

What is the thyroid?It is a small, butterfly-shaped gland wrapped around the windpipe at the base of the neck. It produces hormones that control your metabolism. These hormones do a variety of jobs, including:

  • oaintaining a constant body temperature

  • Helping your body to use protein to grow and repair itself

  • Getting rid of waste from your cells

  • Aiding your body’s immune system to work effectively

  • Stimulating the flow of blood around your body

What happens when your thyroid doesn’t work properly?There are two common thyroid disorders – hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Hypothyroidism appears to affect more than twice as many people as hyperthyroidism and both conditions are up to 10 times more likely in women than men. Having an underactive thyroid causes levels of important hormones to drop and as a result you can suffer from some of the following symptoms:

  • Foggy thinking and problems concentrating

  • oemory loss

  • High cholesterol

  • Dry skin

  • Irregular periods

  • Food cravings

  • Weight gain

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Excessive tiredness

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Nasal stuffiness and recurrent colds

  • Sensitivity to sunlight

  • Insomnia

  • Clumsiness

  • Constipation

  • Heartburn/reflux

  • The need to urinate in the night

  • Pins and needles in the hands and fingers

  • Loss or thinning of hair

  • Tendency to bruise easily

  • Low sex drive

  • Decreased sweating

  • Puffy face and eyelids

  • ouscle pain

What are the signs of hyperthyroidism?An overactive thyroid is less common than an underactive one. Symptoms may include:

  • Breathlessness

  • Feeling overheated a lot of the time

  • Heart palpitations

  • Hair loss

  • Increased bowel movements

  • ouscle weakness

  • Nervousness

  • Protruding eyes or staring gaze

  • Trembling hands

  • Warm, moist skin

  • Weight loss

Who gets thyroid problems?Some people are genetically predisposed to developing thyroid disorders – if there’s a history in your family you should be tested. There may also be a link to diet and environmental factors and you can be more prone to thyroid disorders if you’ve had conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, glandular fever or fibromyalgia. It’s also thought that smokers and women with polycystic ovarian syndrome may be more at risk.

An autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s disease can result in hypothyroidism while an estimated 80% of hyperthyroidism cases are due to an auto-immune condition called Graves disease. There’s also a link between hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency. While cutting down on salt is good for other aspects of health, not getting enough iodised salt may affect your thyroid gland.

How do I know if I’ve got a thyroid problem? and If I have, how can it be treated?If you’ve got some of the symptoms listed above, see your doctor for a thyroid function blood test. Depending on the results, they may also order a special scan.  If you do have hypothyroidism, you will most likely be prescribed a medication called thyroxine. While it won’t cure the thyroid disorder, it can help control it. Some people report a dramatic improvement in symptoms. Swallowed in tablet form, thyroxine will need to be taken for the rest of your life.

oany people are completely unaware they have an underactive thyroid but for some there can be serious problems if it isn’t treated, including a rare but dangerous complication called myxodema. The signs include a hoarse voice, swollen face, enlarged tongue and extreme fatigue. If you have any of these symptoms you should seek medical help urgently.

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