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Would you know if you had a thyroid disorder? Do you know what signs to look out for? Untreated thyroid problems could lead to permanent life style and overall health changes.

Thyroid disorders are generally under-diagnosed because the majority of people do not even know that they have them. This is partially due to the fact that most people do not recognize the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction; and unfortunately, untreated thyroid problems could lead to permanent life style and overall health changes. The ultimate complications could be death due to cardiac arrhythmia.

The thyroid gland controls the way our body uses its energy, makes proteins and controls how sensitive our entire organism is to external stimuli.

It takes part in these processes by producing thyroid hormones – T3 (triiodothyronine) and thyroxine which can also be called tetraiodothyronine (T4).

The thyroid gland also works in conjunction with every system in your body to keep your bowels moving, your periods regular, your brain sharp, your skin, nails and hair healthy. In some people however, the thyroid gland could either have abnormally increased or decreased activity, and the symptoms of such changes could according to the individual. Statistically, women are 8 times more likely to develop thyroid disorders than men.

The thyroid gland can either be:

  • Overactive, in which case the condition is called hyperthyroidism

We can also have thyroid nodules which can either be overactive or underactive. All these disorders may give rise to a physical thyroid deformity known as goiter, which is simply synonymous to an enlarged thyroid.

How to suspect a thyroid disorder?

Depending on whether the thyroid gland is under or overactive, clinical presentation will be different, and this also correlates with the cause of the disease.

For example, in hypothyroidism the thyroid gland does not produce sufficient amounts of thyroid hormones T4 and T3. In addition, the body functions in a “low-energy mode, and all the metabolic processes are slowed down. This is why the patient tends to be tired, always sleepy, and gaining weight in uncontrollably. The patient might then appear with signs of decreased activity of body systems:  

  • Weight gain (it takes more time and more energy to burn down fat);
  • Dry, itchy skin; thin, brittle fingernails, hair loss (because of being in a low energy state)
  • Depression (decreased activity of the brain);
  • Muscle cramps, joint pain, mood instability, irritability,
  • Constipation (decreased movement of your bowels);
  • Fatigue, sleepiness, cold intolerance, decreased sweating.
  • Female infertility, menstrual irregularities (decreased activity of your endocrine system

In hyperthyroidism however, it is the complete opposite. Because of the overactive thyroid gland produces excessive amounts of its thyroid hormones, all body processes will be increased. In this case, the body functions in a high energy mode, the metabolism is increased, all reactions in our body occur faster than usual and this is why the turnover of nutrients is increased. This is why people with hyperthyroidism tend to lose weight despite the fact that they eat a lot. Common signs of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Weight loss (increased fat burning)
  • Thinning of the skin, fine brittle hair (increased metabolic activity in the skin and hair);
  • Anxiety, irritability, nervousness (increased activity of the brain)
  • Diarrhea (increased bowel movements)
  • A rise in blood pressure, heart palpitations, trembling, hand tremors, difficulty sleeping, (increased activity of the cardiovascular system);
  • Facial flushing and the feeling of being overheated.

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can further be subdivided into different diseases. For example, other types of hypothyroidism include Hashimoto’s disease (an autoimmune destruction of the thyroid gland cells) or thyroid fibrosis (formation of fibrous tissue in the thyroid following repeated infections and inflammation).

Other categories of hyperthyroidism include Graves’ disease (autoimmune condition in which the body is hypersensitive to thyroid hormones) characterized by an enlarged thyroid, bulging eyes that do not blink much and seem to stare (exophthalmos); hyperactive thyroid nodules (lumps in the thyroid gland, can be either hyperactive or hypoactive). Also note that there is a small chance that those lumps are cancerous, and there is also a chance that they are probably just filled with fluids! Because we cannot make that difference just by looking at the lump, any suspicious thyroid mass is generally biopsied.

You do not need to have all these symptoms to suspect a thyroid disorder, but if you have any 2-3 of the above signs, you should visit your doctor for a thorough thyroid examination.
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