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Overview 

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the centre of the neck and it regulates activities in the body such as digestion and metabolism, heart rate, and temperature control. 

When the thyroid gland functions abnormally, certain signs and symptoms are experienced by affected individuals and knowing about these clinical features is important in determining if there is a problem with the organ.

An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, accounts for up to 90 percent of all thyroid gland imbalances and dysfunction.

10 Important Signs of an Underactive Thyroid Gland

The following signs, especially if some of them occur together, are important as they may point to the presence of an underactive thyroid gland.

  • Feeling fatigued or tired even after sleeping for eight to 10 hours a night or needing to take a nap every day.
  • Gaining weight despite a decreased appetite or struggling to lose weight.
  • Experiencing mood swings, depression, or increased anxiety without any particular triggers being present.
  • Having irregular periods or a decreased sex drive.
  • Increased muscle, joint and tendon pains.
  • Constipation due to decreased gut motility.
  • Excessive hair loss, brittle nails, or dry and cracking skin.
  • Having cold hands and/or feet, experiencing colder temperatures when others are not, or having a body temperature that is consistently under 36.9 degrees C.
  • Poor memory and/or concentration.
  • Swelling of the neck, having a hoarse voice, or the sudden development of snoring when sleeping.

Overactive Thyroid Gland

An overactive thyroid gland is referred to as hyperthyroidism and this condition results in symptoms opposite to those caused by hypothyroidism.

In a type of hyperthyroidism called Grave's disease, patients may also present with protruding eyes as a result of the disease.

Diagnosing Thyroid Abnormalities

A dysfunctional thyroid can be easily diagnosed with simple blood tests, but to get there a patient needs to consult with their primary care doctor so that they can be assessed and investigated further.

Once blood is drawn, the specimen is sent to a laboratory and the results will indicate whether the patient does have a thyroid gland disturbance or not. Once the confirmation is done, the patient will be investigated further to determine the cause of the dysfunction so that they can be managed further.

Management

Hypothyroidism is most often caused by an autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland. This means that the body's immune system produces antibodies that attack the cells of the thyroid gland and damage them to the point where they don't function properly anymore. This condition is referred to as Hashimoto's disease.

In this case, the management of the disease is by supplementing with hormone replacement medication and this needs to be performed lifelong in order for the body to function normally and not experience the mentioned symptoms. 

An overactive thyroid gland can be managed with certain medications which help to reduce the function of the organ or it may need to be exposed to radiation or surgically removed depending on the pathology involved. However, once either of the latter-mentioned therapies is performed, the affected patient will need to continue with hormone replacement therapy since the thyroid gland will no longer function adequately.

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