Although we often hear about thyroid problems, most of us have little understanding of what this really means. The thyroid gland plays an important role in the body, producing hormones that regulate metabolism and influence brain activity. Problems with the thyroid gland can therefore have far reaching consequences, although the symptoms aren’t always obvious.
In India, thyroid disorders affect an estimated 42 million people, as per the findings of a study that appeared in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. Although there are different types of thyroid disorders, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, which implies an underactive or overactive thyroid gland respectively, are the most common.
Here’s how these conditions can affect your health, so learn to recognize the warning signs.
The Subtle Signs Of Thyroid Disease
“Changes in metabolism can cause weight gain or loss”
Perhaps the best known symptom associated with thyroid problems is inexplicable weight gain, so we’ll start here. Hypothyroidism causes a drop in hormones that regulate metabolism and calorie burn, causing a steady rise in weight.
On the other hand, hyperthyroidism increases metabolism, which can result in a larger appetite – but, despite the increased food intake you do not gain weight. In fact, you may even lose weight!
“Depending on the type of thyroid disorder, you could experience daytime drowsiness, despite getting sleep, or you may suffer from insomnia”
If you normally slept well, but now spend most of your day feeling drowsy and fatigued, it could be because your thyroid gland is underactive and isn’t producing enough of the thyroid hormone.
Conversely, an overactive thyroid gland will produce excessive hormones, causing an overstimulation of the central nervous system, leading to insomnia.
“We often experience mood swings, but with a thyroid disorder, the changes are more pronounced – you may start to suffer from depression or anxiety disorders”
An underactive thyroid gland can adversely affect your mood, as low levels of the thyroid hormone will cause a drop in serotonin levels in the brain. As all of your body systems are slowed down, it can also make you feel sluggish, low, and depressed.
Sadly, hyperthyroidism, which involves excess production of the thyroid hormone, will not make you feel ecstatic or positive. Instead, it over stimulates your brain, leading to intense feelings of anxiety and nervousness, to the point of being hyperactive.
“Hyperactivity, loss of focus, & brain fog or absent mindedness are commonly associated with thyroid imbalances”
Although changes in sleep do affect brain function, thyroid disorders can also throw things out of whack, with low levels of thyroid hormone causing forgetfulness and a general sense of brain fog. High levels of thyroid hormone will instead cause hyperactivity, making it difficult to concentrate and focus on any task.
“Thyroid hormones also regulate bowel movements, with any disorder increasing or reducing the frequency of bowel movements”
Thyroid hormones play an important role in digestion too, making an underactive thyroid particularly problematic for digestive health, as gut movement slows down and you have more frequent constipation.
Of course, if your thyroid gland is overactive, the effect could be quite the opposite. While you may not experience diarrhea, you will probably have more frequent bowel movements.
“Thyroid patients often experience inexplicable chills or hot sweats, not influenced by actual temperature”
Your body has a temperature regulatory system, ensuring you are always at the optimal temperature, but this is also affected by thyroid hormone levels. When levels drop low because of hypothyroidism you start to feel the chill and will need to wrap yourself up snugly even though it really isn’t cold.
Excessive perspiration on the other hand, is a common problem with hyperthyroidism, as the energy-producing cells go into overdrive, raising body heat and causing perspiration.
Keep in mind that these are not the only symptoms associated with thyroid disorders. You may also experience hair loss, loss of sex drive, increase in cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure. While some of these changes can also be caused by other factors, you should consult an endocrinologist or your doctor if any of these changes persist, or if you observe more than one symptom.
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