Over one million Australians have a thyroid disorder, and many aren’t even aware of it. Could you be one of them? Do you often feel tired, have unexplained weight gain or loss, or perhaps feel palpitations or insomnia and can’t tolerate the cold? If you experience one or more of these, it could be related to thyroid dysfunction, and you might want to get your thyroid levels checked.
The thyroid is a gland shaped like a butterfly which is located on the neck, right below Adam’s apple. The gland uses iodine to produce the Thyroid hormone (TH), which regulates how our brain, heart, liver and muscle function and is intricately connected with every system in our body. An imbalance in thyroid hormones can affect our energy levels, weight, metabolism, heart rate, mood, bowels menstrual cycles in women, and more.
The causes for thyroid dysfunction are usually overactivity (hyperthyroidism) or underactivity (hypothyroidism) of the gland. Hyperthyroidism is most commonly caused by an autoimmune disorder known as Grave’s disease but may sometimes be induced by excessive exposure to iodine. Hypothyroidism is most commonly caused by endemic iodine deficiency.
However, many thyroid disorder symptoms are common to other medical conditions; hence blood tests are needed to confirm a diagnosis. Thyroid function tests can help determine or eliminate various thyroid disorders.
The Australian Thyroid Foundation recommends biochemical testing of serum TSH (Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone), T4 (thyroxine), T3 (triiodothyronine) and thyroid antibodies for thyroid diagnosis. A thyroid ultrasound is performed to determine the gland’s structure and detect any physical abnormalities within.
The Possible Signs of a Thyroid Condition
Thyroid disorders trigger many signs and symptoms in an individual. Keeping a close watch on these symptoms is often the first step in the diagnosis and treatment. Therefore, if you notice any of these symptoms, it’s worth having a talk with your doctor.
1. Unexplained Weight Gain or Loss
Even though your habits remain unchanged, significant changes in your weight could be the result of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is caused by too much thyroxin hormone being produced, which speeds up the body’s metabolism, resulting in weight loss. In hypothyroidism, on the other hand, the body is unable to produce enough thyroxin hormone, which causes the metabolism to slow down, leading to significant weight gain.
2. Change in Appearance
If you’ve noticed changes in your appearance and weight fluctuations, it might be time to get your thyroid checked. Weak or brittle hair, dry, red, itch or irritated skin, puffy face, bulging eyes, swelling of joints, swelling of the neck are symptoms of thyroid imbalance. If you have some of these symptoms, speak to your doctor without dismissing them as usual skin problems.
3. Feelings of Anxiety, Palpitations
Thyroid hormones affect your physical appearance and play a vital role in your overall mood and mental health. Hyperthyroidism can cause feelings of anxiety, nervousness, irritability, while hypothyroidism can cause depression.
Are you constantly feeling tired? Or have difficulty sleeping at night? These are tell-tale signs of thyroid disorder. While hyperthyroidism can cause insomnia and fatigue, hypothyroidism depletes energy, causing lethargy. Both conditions can make you experience muscle weakness, resulting in your body feeling tired and weary.
5. Feeling Always Hot or Always Cold
Hyperthyroidism may cause excessive sweating and intolerance to heat, whereas hypothyroidism can make you feel cold even on warm days. The body cells will produce 65% energy and 35% heat for a normal functioning thyroid gland. But with thyroid disorders, your body will either have too much heat or too little heat.
Your weight can also impact your sensitivity to heat and cold. If you are suffering from an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) and are likely to carry more bodyweight or be overweight, you will be more prone to feeling hot. In contrast, if you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), you are more likely to struggle to maintain or gain weight, resulting in a loss in body weight and fat, making the body more intolerant to cold.
6. Skipped or Painful Periods
Women with thyroid disorders may experience menstrual problems and fertility issues. For women with hypothyroidism, the production of too little thyroxin can make it difficult for the body to release eggs needed for ovulation, affecting a woman’s overall fertility. With hypothyroidism, you might be at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy, including preeclampsia and miscarriage. Women with hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid may get light, irregular periods or experience early menopause. Most of the time, such women think their symptoms are caused by ageing, depression, approaching menopause, or they believe they are simply tired. Too much thyroxine level can also lead to postpartum thyroiditis.
Lack of Symptoms
Sometimes your body may not show noticeable signs or symptoms of a thyroid disorder, but there might be an underlying condition. Thyroid nodules commonly occur within the thyroid gland and are not always as easily detected as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Sometimes, you may notice or feel a bump on your neck, or your doctor may see a lump while physically examining. Such occurrences can be challenging to detect, especially if there are no other symptoms. Thyroid nodules are often detected incidentally during CT scans or MRIs. Early detection of a thyroid nodule can help reduce the chances of developing an overactive thyroid or can help detect and treat more severe thyroid conditions like thyroid cancer.
If you think you might be experiencing any of the above symptoms related to thyroid disorders, or notice any disfiguration of your thyroid, consult your doctor or a qualified thyroid expert. Reducing the time to correct diagnosis can help improve your quality of life and eliminate any chances of thyroid dysfunction.
Remember, a thyroid problem is often the cause of chronic diseases. For any thyroid problem, get in touch with a qualified thyroid clinic at the earliest, and we will conduct an adequate clinical assessment and help you get back to optimised health. Qualified experts will guide you towards higher energy levels, weight regulation, improved hormone function and relief from other thyroid-related problems.