Tiredness- could it be an underactive thyroid?
Most of us feel tired now and then-it might be due to overworking, stress, lack of sleep, viral illness or an unhealthy lifestyle. Usually, simple steps like getting some rest, eating well, and tackling stress levels will solve the problem. But sometimes, even though you seem to do everything right, the tiredness doesn’t improve. At this point, it’s advisable to speak to your doctor, as there are many health problems that can cause low energy and fatigue. Your doctor will usually start by asking some questions and examining you, and may order some blood tests, including a thyroid function test.
What is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid gland is located in the front of your neck, and makes thyroid hormone which regulates things like growth and how your body spends energy. Tiredness is one of the first noticeable symptoms if the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone, though there are many other potential symptoms.
So, what are the symptoms of an underactive thyroid?
- Feeling the cold
- Weight gain
- Low mood/depression
- Thinning hair
- Slow pulse
- Dry Skin
- Reduced concentration
- Changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle
- Reduced sex drive
- A goitre- this means a swelling in the front of your neck
Who gets hypothyroidism and why does it happen?
Anyone can get an underactive thyroid gland or “hypothyroidism”- but it’s more common in women, and may be triggered during or after pregnancy. Some people are born with an underactive thyroid, but this is almost always detected at birth, as babies are routinely checked.
When adults get hypothyroidism, it’s often due to inflammation of the thyroid gland, resulting in destruction of the cells that make thyroid hormone. This frequently tends to be an “autoimmune” problem, called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where the body mistakenly attacks and damages its own cells.
In parts of the world, there may be low Iodine in the diet, which can lead to hypothyroidism, but this is extremely rare in developed countries such as Australia.
In other cases, a person may have had some (or all) of their thyroid gland surgically removed for other reasons- such as thyroid nodules or thyroid cancer, resulting in too little thyroid hormone being made. If a person has an overactive thyroid, some of the treatments may cause the thyroid to become underactive instead. An underactive thyroid can also be a side effect of other medicines, such as Lithium or Amiodarone.
How is hypothyroidism treated?
In most cases, it involves taking a tablet called Thyroxine- a synthetic form of thyroid hormone. People taking this medication need to have a blood test every few months to make sure the levels are correct. There are other less well regulated treatments available from various sources (such as pig thyroid extract) but these products are less well regulated and standardised, and thus not advisable.
If you have more questions about Hypothyroidism or think you may have it, you should speak to your GP.