Ways to identify if you have a Thyroid Problem!
The thyroid gland produces hormones that influence metabolism and the growth and development of our bodies. The two hormones it produces are thyroxine, known as T4, and triiodothyronine, known as T3. Without these, your body’s cells would not be able to function properly. The thyroid gland is located just below the area where a man’s Adam’s apple can be found.
Problems with the thyroid are very common and can range from a small goiter – an enlarged gland – for which no treatment is needed to potentially terminal cancer. The majority of thyroid problems occur due to an abnormal number of thyroid hormones being produced. Although thyroid problems are both unpleasant and uncomfortable, most of them can be combatted easily if diagnosed quickly enough.
There are two main ways in which your thyroid gland can be affected and it’s worth knowing the signs of each. For a start, hypothyroidism, also known as an underactive thyroid, is the most common disorder. This is where an insufficient number of hormones to keep the thyroid working properly are generated. Most times, it is caused by an attack on the gland by the immune system which then damages it or when damage occurs during some, but not all, treatments for thyroid cancer or an overactive thyroid. There is no way of preventing hypothyroidism and the symptoms often take a long time to develop.
Many of these are similar or the same as those of other medical ailments and so hypothyroidism can often be mistaken for something else. Common symptoms include tiredness, sensitivity to cold, weight gain, depression, aches, weaknesses and cramps in the muscles, pain, numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers and a loss of libido, otherwise known as the sex drive.
It is possible that elderly people may experience problems with their memory and bouts of depression. Children may grow and develop more slowly and teenagers may enter puberty earlier than normal. If left untreated, more serious symptoms such as puffiness in the face, a voice that is low and hoarse, a slow heart rate, hearing loss and anaemia can develop. However, the condition is often identified at a stage whereby these symptoms do not have time to develop, so it is uncommon for more than a few of these to manifest at any given time.
Hypothyroidism is usually treated with a course of hormone replacement tablets known as levothyroxine, which acts as a replacement for the hormone called thyroxine. What dose you require will be determined by a series of blood tests and it may take some time before the correct does is attained. It is recommended that you take your tablets at the same time every day, preferably in the morning.
Generally, an underactive thyroid is a lifelong condition and thus you will remain on this medication for the rest of your life. On a more positive note, there are usually no side effects to taking levothyroxine, unless you take too much of it. This can result in chest pains, headaches and diarrhoea. You will also be entitled to an
An overactive thyroid, commonly known as hyperthyroidism or sometimes thyrotoxicosis, occurs when the thyroid gland produces an excessive number of the thyroid hormones. Anyone can develop an overactive thyroid, but research indicates that it’s around ten times more likely to occur in women than men and is especially prevalent in people between the ages of twenty and thirty. Overactive thyroids are mostly caused by a condition known as Graves’ disease. It causes the immune system to attack the thyroid in error, which leads to an overactive reaction. The cause of Graves’ disease is unknown, but it is mostly found young and middle-aged women and appears to be hereditary.
Another, less common, cause of hyperthyroidism is the developing of lumps or nodules on the thyroid. These lumps generally don’t contain cancerous elements, but should they contain thyroid tissue, they can generate an excess production of thyroid hormones. These are mostly found in people over the age of sixty.
Common symptoms of an overactive thyroid include hyperactivity, mood swings, troubles sleeping, constant tiredness, a persistent thirst and itching. Some physical signs that may also arise from hyperthyroidism include an irregular or unusually quick heartbeat, twitching or trembling, patchy hair loss or thinning, weight loss despite an increased appetite and eye problems.
If you should experience any of these symptoms, you should consult your GP who will give you a blood test to determine whether your thyroid is overactive. If the result is positive, you may be prescribed medicines called thioamides to halt the excessive production of hormones. These will need to be taken for around one to two months before any real benefit can be felt. If this happens, you may be given beta blockers to minimise the symptoms at the same time.
Another form of treatment is a type of radiotherapy called radioactive iodine treatment, which gets rid of the cells in the thyroid and diminishes the number of hormones produced. This is given in the form of a drink or capsule containing iodine and a small dose of radiation which the thyroid absorbs. It is highly probable that you will only need one treatment before the problem is resolved. This treatment is not suitable for pregnant women nor those who suffer with eye problems as a result of their hyperthyroidism.
Occasionally, all or part of the thyroid may need removing via surgery particularly when the gland is severely swollen or when other treatments have failed. Surgery permanently removes the risk of hyperthyroidism recurring but you will be on medication for the rest of your life to make up for the thyroid’s absence. These medicines will most likely be levothyroxine, which is used to treat hypothyroidism.
Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are unpleasant conditions and the symptoms can be painful and uncomfortable, but provided that a diagnosis is made sooner rather than later, both can be effectively treated and you can expect to live life in comfort and without undue anxiety.
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