What are Thyroid disorders?
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck. It is responsible for producing the hormones Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3), that regulate numerous metabolic processes in our body. Thyroid disorders are therefore conditions affecting the functioning of the thyroid gland; many of the body’s functions slow down when these hormones aren’t produced adequately. Thyroid disorders are numerous and vary in nature, including; hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), goiter (enlarged thyroid gland) and thyroid cancer.
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
Hypothyroidism is the most commonly experienced thyroid disorder, affecting at least 15 in every 1000 women and 1 in every 1000 men. Children often develop it too, while babies could be born with it.
An underactive thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of the hormone thyroxine as per your body’s needs. This lack of adequate hormones slows down your metabolic processes, commonly causing fatigue and weight gain. There is no way of preventing an underactive thyroid, but the condition can be managed well when duly diagnosed and treated.
Thyroid disorders are caused generally because either the immune system attacks the thyroid gland or due to damage to the gland that may occur during treatment for hyperthyroidism or thyroid cancer. At an early age, hypothyroidism, can lead to mental retardation and stunted growth. Long-term if untreated it changes the way the body processes fat, it can cause high cholesterol levels and blockages in arteries, leading to serious heart problems such as angina (chest pain) and heart attack.
Symptoms for hypothyroidism usually develop slowly over years, and can be similar to other conditions, one may not notice them for years. Common symptoms include;- Fatigue
- Weight gain
- Hypersensitivity to cold temperatures
- Dry skin and hair
- Muscle aches
- Loss of sex drive
- Pain, numbness or a tingling sensation in the hands and fingers
- Irregular or heavy periods.
- Fluid retention
Symptoms when the condition is at a more advanced stage includel- Hoarse voice
- Puffy face
- Slow heart rate
- Hearing loss
Children with an underactive thyroid often experience mental retardation, slower growth, and hit puberty earlier than normal. Elderly people with an underactive thyroid may develop memory loss and depression.
Thyroid problems are quite common, affecting up to 3% of all adults, especially women. Many of the symptoms of a thyroid disorder are non-specific and may be experienced due to attributed to other conditions. It is useful to have a complete thyroid function test to diagnose a thyroid problem or to monitor an already identified thyroid condition.