The thyroid is a small, but essential butterfly-shaped powerhouse located in the neck area. Its function is to produce hormones that regulate the body’smetabolic rate including digestion, muscle control, heart function, brain development and the bones. Effective function requires amino acids, minerals and enzymes to generate and transform thyroxine (T4) the inactive for to triiodothyronine (T3) the active form for utilisation within the body.
Dysfunction is triggered by numerous factors, including pregnancy, autoimmunity, diet, gut issues, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, toxicity (heavy metals, oestrogen and steroids), stress, lack of sleep, too much exercise, a compromised immune system and thyroid resistance.
Dysfunction manifests in two ways – hyperthyroidism (too much T3) and hypothyroidism (too little T3) the symptoms of which include:
- Changes in weight
- Onset of goitre
- Changes in heart rate
- Changes in blood pressure
- Changes in mood
- Propensity for depression and anxiety
- Hair loss
- Body temperature regulation (hot flushes, or an aversion to cold)
- Changes in bowel movements (constipation for hypo and loose stools for hyper)
- Changes in menstrual cycle
- Dry skin and brittle nails
- Vision problems
- Trembling hands
- Muscle weakness
Risks associated with undiagnosed and therefore advanced thyroid dysfunction include:
- Elevated cholesterol
- Risk of heart attack and stroke
The general rule of thumb: Hyper speeds things up and hypo slows things down and so for example weight gain occurs more frequently with hypo, whereas weight loss occurs with hyper. There are of course exceptions depending on the individual.
Diagnosis of dysfunction is usually by blood test. However, results can sometimes show as ‘normal’ even when dysfunction exists and therefore dysfunction goes undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed – for example, a female over a certain age suffering from hot flushes will most likely be suspected to be perimenopausal, or menopausal – also see Andropause for males.
The reason for a ‘normal’ test result even when dysfunction exists depends on the tests your doctor conducts and the ranges applied. So it is important your doctor orders a full thyroid panel, knows the ranges applicable for optimal function and knows how to interpret the results. Like most chronic conditions, early detection limits permanent damage, so don’t choose to live with something that you don’t have to.
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