Body & Fitness

Thyroid disorders: Signs and symptoms

Irregularities in thyroid hormone production can wreak havoc on the body.

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that most people never even think about – until something goes wrong.

Women over 35 are 10 times as likely as men to have a thyroid problem, which often goes undiagnosed.

Things go wrong when your thyroid is either over or under active, disrupting the production of thyroid hormone (TH). This regulates, among other things, your body’s temperature, heartbeat and metabolism.

There are many reasons why your thyroid can produce too much TH (resulting in hyperthyroidism) – or too little TH (which causes hypothyroidism).

These include:

• An autoimmune condition

• Stress

• Genetics

• Pregnancy

• Exposure to toxins

• Nutritional deficiencies

Thyroid disorders can be hard to diagnose because symptoms can be general and often associated with other causes.

Here are some signs to look out for:

Feeling worn out

Feeling exhausted and drained are symptoms of hypothyroidism. One of the most obvious signs is being fatigued despite a good night’s sleep. Low levels of TH in blood mean muscles don’t get the signal to get going.

Feeling down

Being depressed is another symptom of hypothyroidism. It’s thought that a shortage of thyroid hormone in your blood can affect levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin.

Anxious and jittery

Feeling “wired” and on edge can in some cases be due to hyper-thyroidism. When your thyroid gland floods the body with too much TH, the body’s systems are given the message to get going, spinning the metabolism and other systems into overdrive.

Different appetite

Feeling hungry and wanting to eat more all the time can be due to hyperthyroidism. Meanwhile, an underactive thyroid can affect your sense of smell and taste.

Weird heartbeat

You may notice a fluttery feeling, which is likely to be heart palpitations. This is when your heart beats too hard or fast and skips beats, and may be caused by an excess of TH when you have hyperthyroidism.

Dry skin

Unusually dry and itchy skin can be thanks to hypothyroidism – a shortage of TH can reduce the amount you sweat. Because your skin is then lacking in moisture, it can become dry and flaky. Your nails may also become brittle.

Elevated blood pressure

It’s thought that low TH can slow your heartbeat, affecting its ability to pump blood. This can cause blood pressure to rise.

Aching muscles

Tingling, numb or sore muscles – without any obvious cause – could be due to hypothyroidism. Over time, low TH can damage the nerves that send signals from the brain throughout your body, leading to unexplained twinges.

Irregular periods

Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can affect menstrual cycles. Low TH can lead to longer periods with a heavier flow and more cramps. With hyperthyroidism, too much TH can result in periods that are shorter, further apart and light.

Irregular bowel movements

If they’re more infrequent and you suffer from constipation, hypothyroidism could be to blame. If you have the opposite problem and find yourself going to the toilet more often, or suffering from diarrhoea, you may have hyperthyroidism.

Feeling too hot or too cold

Feeling cold is associated with hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid means cells burn less energy, resulting in less body heat. At the other end of the scale, too much TH puts your energy producing cells into overdrive, which is why people with hyperthyroidism can feel overheated and sweat a lot.

Sleeping too much or not enough

Wanting to sleep a lot can be a sign of hypothyroidism, due to your body functions slowing and becoming sluggish. However, trouble sleeping could be due to an overactive thyroid keeping the body’s systems on edge and preventing sleep.

Putting on weight

Hypothyroidism can slow down your metabolism and you may find yourself gaining weight, despite exercising and not eating more than usual. On the other hand, sudden weight loss for no apparent reason may be due to hyperthyroidism.

Thinning hair

Too little TH can disrupt your hair growth cycle, resulting in hair loss. Sometimes this loss is on other parts of the body as well as the head.

High cholestrol

If you’ve got high levels of bad LDL cholesterol that haven’t improved when you’ve made changes to your diet, exercised more or are taking medication, it’s worth checking thyroid function. High LDL cholesterol can be due to an underactive thyroid gland and if not treated, high levels of this cholesterol can lead to heart problems.

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