You know that feeling when you wake up and just feel out of whack? For those with a thyroid disorder, this is their daily reality. According to SingHealth, women in Singapore, especially those between 20 and 50 years old, are five times more likely than men to develop this disorder.
Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, near the base of your throat. It makes hormones that help control metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure and weight.
“All the symptoms are non-specific and can overlap with other common conditions, including stress, the main issue when trying to diagnose a thyroid problem,” explains endocrinologist Dr Katherine Tonks.
So how can you tell what’s going on? Read on to the uncover the symptoms of thyroid disorders and the treatments that will help get you back on track.
Warning signs of a thyroid disorder
If you answer ‘yes’ to one or more of the following questions, you could be suffering from a thyroid problem:
- Do you regularly feel fatigued?
- Have you had hair loss or thinning?
- Do you feel depressed or anxious?
- Have you experienced unexplained weight gain or rapid weight loss?
- Do you have difficulty sleeping?
- Do you have muscle cramps and aches?
- Are you often constipated?
- Do you feel cold even when it’s warm?
Hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid
Foggy, sluggish and heavy. These are the words hypothyroid sufferers use to describe their day-to-day battle, as an underactive thyroid slows your entire system down.
Symptoms can spiral, too, with weight gain, constipation and low mood caused by a thyroid gland that’s simply not producing enough of the thyroid hormones. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition that causes your body to directly attack your thyroid gland.
“Luckily the diagnosis is made with a simple blood test,” says Dr Tonks. She suggests asking your GP to test your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels and if yours are above four, it’s worth investigating further.
Who suffers from hypothyroidism?
Victoria’s Secret model Gigi Hadid and actresses Zoe Saldana and Kim Cattrall all have Hashimoto’s.
“I’d always had a lot of energy but it dropped and I knew something was off – and I had some hair loss, too,” explains Kim.
How do you treat hypothyroidism?
“The short answer is you need thyroid hormone replacement medication,” says Dr Tonks. “It’s essentially the same thyroid hormone your body makes, but it’s obviously made in the lab.”
The other key is iodine in your diet. “For women and children, iodine is especially important – low levels in pregnancy can lower IQ in babies.” Good dietary sources include fish, seaweed and iodised salt.
Hyperthyroidism – an overactive thyroid
While not as common as an underactive thyroid, symptoms can overlap with other conditions and become tough to diagnose.
“Your thyroid is responsible for your metabolism, so when it’s overactive it can feel like you’re running a marathon 24 hours a day,” says Dr Tonks. “You’re burning lots of energy, so you feel exhausted, sweaty, suffer weight loss, heart palpitations and hair loss or thinning.”
The most common form is Graves’ disease – an autoimmune condition that forces the thyroid to produce too many hormones.
Who suffers from hyperthyroidism?
Kelly Osbourne and Oprah Winfrey have both battled an overactive thyroid, while singer Sia’s been vocal about her struggle with Graves’ disease. “I’m not crazy! I have Graves’ disease! The shakes, the nerves. The crazy! Goodbye thyroid, I will kill you with radioactivity,” the songstress wrote on Twitter.
How do you treat hyperthyroidism?
“The treatment is anti-thyroid medication, ablation using radio-iodine or removal with surgery,” says Dr Tonks. But rest assured, although these treatment options sound extreme, it’s a step-by-step process. “You’d try the medication first, and a third of cases improve after a course of it,” she says.
“If that doesn’t work, radio-iodine is used as a form of non-surgical thyroid removal. It’s really simple – you go in, take a tablet and go home.”
Text: bauersyndication.com.au / Additional reporting: Elizabeth Liew