8 Common Signs You Could Have A Thyroid Problem
When it comes to your over-all health the little butterfly-shaped glad at the base of your neck, A.K.A your thyroid, is kind of a big deal.

June 12, 2022

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Things we thought were important for our overall health: the heart and the lungs. Things that are actually also important: everything else! That includes the thyroid, a little-known gland that’s been getting tons of attention in recent years after multiple reports involving a thyroid problem surfaced about women discovering its malfunction was behind their weight gain, lack of energy and even missed periods. So is yours acting up?

What is a thyroid?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck wrapped around the windpipe, and it is responsible for making hormones that are important for different systems in the body to function properly. One of the hormones that are produced by the thyroid is thyroxine (T4).  The right amount of T4 in your blood is essential to support your body’s digestion, heart and muscle function, brain development, bone upkeep, and ensure that other organs work as they should.

One in eight women suffers from health problems related to their thyroid. And it’s easy to see why a thyroid problem would be mystifying. “There are a number of symptoms associated with thyroid disease which can easily be overlooked or confused with other conditions,” says Dr Sindeep Bhana, Head of Endocrinology at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and a specialist in thyroid disease.

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There are six major thyroid problems:

  • Hypothyroidism – underactive thyroid
  • Hyperthyroidism – overactive thyroid
  • Thyroiditis – inflammation of the thyroid, which can cause over- or underactivity and often presents postpartum
  • Goiter – enlarged thyroid, which can cause overactive thyroid
  • Thyroid nodules – lumps on the thyroid, which can also cause overactive thyroid
  • Thyroid cancer – a rare cancer that may present without symptoms, except for a lump in the neck or soreness

Experts aren’t sure what causes your thyroid go on the fritz (though your genes, autoimmune conditions, and stress could play a role).

Specialists say that more than half the women suffering from thyroid disorders don’t even know they’re ill and often go undiagnosed. Mainly because it’s easy to brush off common symptoms as signs of everyday stress or ageing. In Dr Bhana’s research experience, approximately 4% of the South African population suffers from hypothyroidism and he estimates that at least half of these cases remain undiagnosed. Furthermore, people of Indian origin have the highest prevalence of hypothyroidism, followed by Caucasians; however, Dr Bhana does caution that hypothyroidism is also a health concern in people of mixed race and African descent.

So, if you find yourself answering ‘yes’ to more than one of the points below, ask your doctor to run a simple blood test that checks your T4 levels, called a TSH test. They’ll then be able to suggest treatment options that can help your thyroid get back on track.

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1. You’re Aways Tired, No Matter How Much Sleep You Get

Thyroid hormones stimulate the brain, so when too little T4 – a condition called hypothyroidism – is pumping through your bloodstream, your bodily functions slow down. This leaves you feeling exhausted and sluggish. It can also affect your mood, as too little T4 can lower your serotonin levels. Find you’re forgetful? That’s because your hippocampus (your brain’s memory hub) needs T4 to function, too.

2. You Feel Like You Drank ALL The Coffee

On the opposite end of the spectrum , you may find that you feel ‘wired’. This can signal that your thyroid is pumping out too much of the hormone.

3. Suddenly Your Jeans Don’t Fit

If you have an underactive thyroid you may find that you pick up weight. Your body converts fewer kilojoules into energy, because the lack of T4 slows your metabolism to a snail’s pace. And, just to add insult to injury, you may also retain water since your kidneys also slow down and can’t excrete fluids fast enough. But if your thyroid is operating at light-speed, you might end up losing weight (even if you’re still stuffing your face).

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4. Your Period Is Irregular

When your periods become, longer, irregular, and heavier, it could signal that your T4 levels are in short supply. Hypothyroidism is linked to high levels of prolactin, a hormone that’s primarily responsible for stimulating the production of breast milk after childbirth, but also regulates the menstrual cycle. On the other hand is your cycle suddenly becomes longer (so your periods are farther apart but shorter) and lighter, it could be a sign that you have hyperthyroidism.

5. Your Heart Races For No Reason

Does your heart literally skip a beat? An overload of T4 can cause your heart to amp up its usual pace as your tissues are demanding more oxygen-rich blood. Hello, heart palpitations. You may notice the feeling in your chest or other pulse points (your throat or wrist).

6. You Get The Chills Or You’re Suddenly Super Sweaty

Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold. Can your body just make up it’s mind already? When your thyroid is overactive and your metabolism speeds up, you end up sweating. When it’s underactive, your body tries to conserve heat by limiting blood flow to the skin, which can leave you feeling like an icicle even on a warm day.

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7. Your Bathroom Habits Change

Yup, we’re talking about your poop. When you have hypothyroidism the muscles in the gut slow, leaving you constipated. The reverse is true when you have an overactive thyroid (ahem, diarrhoea).

8. Your Skin Is Dry And Your Hair Is Brittle

A slow metabolism = less sweat. Without the extra moisture, your skin can become as a dry as a desert, your nails can crack and your hair can break.

If you have a thyroid problem, what’s the test?

If you’re ticking boxes here, you may wanna call up your doctor and request a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test. The role of TSH is similar to that of the conductor of an orchestra in that TSH controls the amount of T4 that is produced by the thyroid gland. Changes in blood TSH levels can be a sign that T4 levels are too high or too low; high TSH indicates that the thyroid gland is not making enough T4 (hypothyroidism), and low TSH may indicate that too much T4 is being produced (hyperthyroidism). In most healthy individuals, a normal TSH value means that the thyroid is functioning properly.