Do you suffer from hypothyroidism? You may not even know it.

Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland, is a condition affecting around one in every 33 Australians. It’s much more common in women than men and is most prevalent among those aged 60 and over.

Put simply, hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland is unable to produce enough thyroid hormones, which are crucial to your body’s metabolism.

Your thyroid gland, located at the base of your throat, releases hormones into your bloodstream that influence a multitude of organs, including your brain, heart and kidneys.

Thyroid hormones are a primary driver of your body’s metabolic processes, which through the uptake of food at the cellular level, can affect your temperature, heartbeat rhythm and how effective you are at burning calories.

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“The thyroid gland secretes hormones to regulate many metabolic processes, including growth and energy expenditure,” the Victorian government’s Better Health Channel says.

“If the thyroid gland is overactive or sluggish, the metabolism will be affected, leading to a variety of symptoms that are easily misdiagnosed. Around one in 20 people will experience some form of thyroid dysfunction in their lifetime. Women are more susceptible than men.”

Symptoms of hypothyroidism can be can unclear and varied. They are often mistaken for the symptoms of other conditions or aren’t recognised as symptoms at all. They often start out as mild complaints and gradually worsen over time as the condition of your thyroid gland deteriorates.

The Thyroid Foundation lists some of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism as excessive fatigue, sudden weight gain and fluid retention, depression, trouble sleeping, thinning hair and eyebrows, increased sensitivity to cold, breathlessness, dry skin and constipation.

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These are just a selection of possible symptoms, and there are many more. Any one of them alone would probably not be a red flag, but if you find yourself with a combination of these, consider speaking to your GP.

The most common cause of hypothyroidism in Australia is Hashimoto’s disease, an auto-immune disorder where your immune system attacks the thyroid and renders it unable to produce hormones.

Other causes of hypothyroidism can include previous radiation treatments for cancer, congenital thyroid defects that have been present since birth and even a lack of iodine in your diet.

Hypothyroidism is usually permanent, and is managed rather than cured. Treatment usually includes hormone replacement therapy (HRT), particularly using thyroxine tablets.

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“The dose needs to be carefully monitored with blood tests to ensure the correct dose is given and avoid hormone levels getting too high,” says Hormones Australia.

“If this occurs, symptoms can develop such as an increase in heart rate, unexplained weight loss, anxiety/nervousness, sweating, diarrhoea and an intolerance to hot temperatures. It is common for doses to be adjusted at the start of treatment until you reach a stable dose and to make sure you are receiving the optimum dose that brings your [hormone] level into a normal range.”

Once the correct dosage is identified, your doctor will usually need to check in with you at least once a year to monitor your thyroid hormone levels and adjust your dosage if necessary.

Should you notice any combination of hypothyroid symptoms that won’t go away, or if you have a family history of thyroid issues, it’s best to get yourself checked out by your doctor.

Do you or a loved one suffer from hypothyroidism? Or have you noticed any of these symptoms but haven’t been able identify the cause? Let us know in the comments section below.

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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Written by Brad Lockyer