Ever felt excessively tired for no good reason? Finding it difficult to lose weight despite a healthy diet and exercise regime? Struggling with depression or hair loss? These are but a few symptoms of thyroid disease. It can affect anyone at any time and is so insidious, its effects are often ignored.
But, what is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, and mostly, it just gets on with its job of governing your body’s metabolism, in collaboration with your hypothalamus and your pituitary gland, both located in your brain and known as your endocrine system.
The challenge is that this system doesn’t get the same attention as, for instance, your circulatory system or the digestive system which displays obvious symptoms when something goes wrong.
Ever heard of irritable bowel syndrome? When you’re faced with extreme and recurrent abdominal pains and diarrhea you know something is wrong.
The 411 on thyroid disease
There are different types of thyroid dysfunctions: (i) Hypothyroidism, (ii) Hyperthyroidism, and (iii) malignant thyroids.
Hypothyroidism – The slug
Hypothyroidism is where the thyroid gland is under-functioning (sluggish). It is caused by a variety of things, including autoimmune disease, treatment for hyperthyroidism, thyroid surgery, radiation therapy, and some medications. Less frequently, it could be caused by congenital disease, a pituitary disorder, pregnancy, or an iodine deficiency.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of an under-functioning thyroid (Hypothyroidism) are a little less obvious and are easily confused with the results of stress, or other lifestyle diseases. They include fatigue, weakness, weight gain, elevated cholesterol, hair loss or coarse, dry hair, muscle cramps, and an intolerance for cold conditions.
If hypothyroidism isn’t treated, it becomes worse – and you maybe become forgetful, your thought processes may be slow, or you may be depressed. It could also lead to heart problems, mental health issues, and nerve damage (called peripheral neuropathy), as well as infertility among women, and birth defects among children.
Untreated, it could lead to a condition known as myxedema, which is rare, but life-threatening, as it includes low blood pressure, decreased breathing, decreased body temperature, unresponsiveness, and even a coma.