The hidden signs of a thyroid disorder

Thyroid disorders are very common in the UK – it’s estimated that one in twenty of us are affected by them.

Although the thyroid gland is one of the smallest in the body, its role is very important.  The thyroid regulates energy production and metabolic rate throughout your body.  This affects your heart, brain, skin, bowels and body temperature. Too much or too little of the hormones produced by the thyroid can have a huge effect on your health and well-being.

But many of us don’t realise we’re suffering from thyroid disorders as the symptoms often resemble those associated with other conditions.  Thyroid disorders can be particularly difficult to diagnose in older people, as many of the common symptoms are often mistaken for the “normal” signs associated with ageing.

What are the symptoms of a thyroid disorder?

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) causes the body’s metabolism to run too slowly.  Common symptoms may include unexplained weight gain or difficulty in losing weight, sleep problems, constipation and depression.  An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) causes the body’s metabolism to speed up.  This can trigger symptoms including weight loss, an increased appetite, anxiety, heart palpitations and nervousness.

The risk of hypothyroidism increases with age, and is more common in women than men. Twenty percent of people over 75 are deficient in levels of thyroid hormone, which can often cause symptoms of confusion. This confusion is commonly mistaken for dementia.

Undiagnosed thyroid disorders can put a great strain on the heart. This can increase the risk of stroke, atrial fibrillation and furring of the arteries through the build-up of cholesterol.  The most accurate way to diagnose thyroid disorders is with a simple blood test which looks for the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH).