Up to 60 per cent unaware they have this disorder

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Have you experienced sudden weight gain or loss? Do you experience brain fog, hair loss, chills or sweats? They may be caused by this common, yet frequently overlooked condition.

Thyroid disorders are more common that heart disease and diabetes, yet up to 60 per cent of people with them are unaware. Thyroid disorders affect around 14 per cent of older Australians.

Your thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that sits at the base of your neck. It secretes hormones that influence nearly all of your organs and helps to regulate your metabolism. When something goes wrong with your thyroid gland, it can affect your entire body.

Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid secretes too many hormones. The side-effects of this condition include increased sweating, weight loss, anxiety, raised heart rate and more regular bowel movements.

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid secretes too few hormones. The side-effects of this condition include fatigue, feeling cold, constipation, dry skin, mood swings and depression. As we get older, our thyroid gland is more likely to become underactive rather than overactive. Hence, hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder in Australia.

There are two types of hypothyroidism:

  • Primary hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland becomes diseased, meaning it is unable to produce sufficient hormones for your body.
  • Secondary hypothyroidism occurs when your pituitary gland isn’t sufficiently stimulating your thyroid, meaning it doesn’t produce enough hormones.

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism have a number of possible causes, including a diet that is low is iodine, thyroid surgery, radio-iodine therapy and medications.

Primary hypothyroidism is often caused by an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This condition is caused when your own antibodies attack your thyroid gland. It is also known to cause a condition known as goitre, a swelling and enlargement of the thyroid gland.

Thyroid disease is most commonly developed by people who are over the age of 60, have a family history of thyroid disease or an autoimmune disease. Women are five to eight times more likely to have thyroid problems than men. One in every eight women will develop a thyroid disorder at some stage in their life.

These disorders may be frequently undiagnosed, in part because some of the symptoms are already common among at-risk groups. For example, some of the most common side-effects of a thyroid disorder include sweats, chills and fluctuations in weight, which are also common side-effects of menopause. 

Despite the serious side-effects, thyroid problems can usually be treated quite easily with medication. In order to be diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, you will need to consult your GP. Blood tests will be taken to monitor hormone levels, and further testing may be required to determine the origin of the problem.

Other thyroid conditions are also on the rise. A study found that over the last 10 years thyroid cancer cases have increased by 84 per cent in women and 48 per cent in men.

Do you have a thyroid disorder? Would you find it difficult to detect these disorders given their wide range of symptoms?

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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 Liv Gardiner



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