The thyroid is a part of the body we’ve all heard of. But how many of us actually know what it does in the grand scheme of our bodies?
When we refer to the thyroid, what we’re actually referencing is the body’s metabolism, as it’s the thyroid that controls the rate at which your cells create energy and how fast your heart beats.
In this blog, we’re looking at everything from what the thyroid is and does and the types of associated disorders, to the way thyroid problems, pose problems for both genders (though women are most commonly affected) and how they can be treated and diagnosed.
What is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid is the small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck, that creates a thyroid hormone that moves all around the body, through your blood.
Thyroid disorders and diseases
Like any other part of the body, the thyroid is prone to problems, most of which are down to the following problems for:
- Too much or too little thyroid hormone. This is known as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
- Irregular thyroid growth.
- Lumps within the thyroid
- Thyroid cancer
Women & thyroid problems
It’s commonly known that women are more likely to suffer from thyroid problems than men. In fact, 1 in 8 women develop such problems during their lifetime, though many may not even know it.
Associated issues that are unique to women include an irregular menstrual cycle, difficulty getting pregnant and complications during pregnancy, ranging from premature birth, preeclampsia and miscarriage.
Other factors that increase the risk of developing thyroid disease include:
- Having a family history of thyroid disease
- Having a medical condition including anaemia, type 1 diabetes, lupus and Turner syndrome, amongst others.
- Taking medication containing high levels of iodine
- Women over the age of 60
- Have had treatment for thyroid conditions or cancer
What are the common symptoms of thyroid problems?
Unfortunately, symptoms of thyroid conditions can be easily mistaken for other medical problems, making it difficult to diagnose. As we mentioned earlier, you can either have an overactive or underactive thyroid, both of which have their own associated symptoms:
Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) symptoms can include:
- Irritability and anxiety
- Difficulties sleeping
- Weight loss
- An enlarged thyroid or gland
- Muscle weakness
- Irregular periods
- Problems with vision
Underactive thyroid problems (hypothyroidism) symptoms can include:
- Feeling tired
- Gaining weight
- Having heavy periods regularly
- Hoarse voice
- Intolerance to the cold
- Dry hair
If your doctor suspects you may be suffering from thyroid-related issues, they may perform blood tests, imaging tests or a physical examination.
Treating thyroid problems
When treating thyroid problems, it’s a healthcare professional’s aim to restore the thyroid hormone levels to being normal and/or to treat the symptoms. This is achieved by doing one of or a combination of the following:
- Prescribing anti-thyroid drugs and radioactive iodine that prevent the thyroid from producing hormones.
- Beta-blockers to regulate the symptoms of an over and underactive thyroid.
- Surgery to remove the thyroid.
- Thyroid replacement medication to supplement the absence of the hormones.
If you’re concerned you might be suffering from thyroid disease, get in touch with your GP as soon as possible.