January has been Thyroid awareness month. As we reach the end of the month, Consultant ENT Surgeon, Miss Natasha Choudhury reminds us about the big impact that this small gland can have.
How common is Thyroid disorder?
The World Health Organisation estimates that 750 million people worldwide have some form of thyroid disorder. Within the UK, it is estimated that 1 in 20 people are affected, with a significantly higher prevalence amongst females. Common triggers include puberty, pregnancy and the menopause, with also some thyroid disorders being familial.
What does my Thyroid do?
The normal thyroid gland sits in the front, lower half of the neck. Our thyroid gland is vital in producing hormones that act like the fuel for our body; it is therefore essential in ensuring healthy function of all our major organs. Therefore, symptoms of thyroid dysfunction are wide ranging, affecting many different aspects of our health.
What symptoms should I be aware of?
Thyroid disorders are where the thyroid gland produces too much or too little thyroid hormones.
Some of the common symptoms of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) include:
• Over-sensitivity to cold temperatures
• Weight gain
• Slow bowel action / constipation
• Low mood / anxiety / depression
• Dry skin
• Brittle hair and nails
• Hair loss / thinning of eyebrows
• Muscle aches and pains
• Hoarse voice
• Loss of libido
• Irregular periods / fertility issues
Some of the common symptoms of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) include:
• Increased sweating
• Over sensitivity to heat
• Increased appetite
• Weight loss
• Dry, thin skin
• Shakiness / tremor
• Mood swings
• Poor sleep / Insomnia
• Larger, prominent eyes
• Dry, gritty eyes
• Muscle aches and pains
• Changes to menstrual cycle
• Fertility issues
What should I do?
If you are suffering with some or many of these symptoms, they are likely to be affecting your quality of life. If so, you should arrange to see your doctor, for some simple tests. Often, an initial baseline TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) level is measured with a blood test. However, this alone may not be sufficient to confirm a diagnosis, particularly if the TSH level is normal. You may benefit from seeing a specialist who can arrange more thorough screening with a full panel of thyroid blood tests.
The good news is that if you are diagnosed with thyroid dysfunction, the correct medical treatment can significantly improve your quality of life.