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THYROID CAN GIVE A LIFETIME OF TROUBLE; HEALTH MATTERS; Tired, fluctuating waistline, mood swings, dry skin... daily health niggles that are just part of being a woman, right?

We're used to putting up with all sorts of gripes without bothering a doctor, but for as many as one in 50, these could actually be the symptoms of a much more serious problem.

The thyroid is a butterfly–shaped gland in your neck that produces the hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine, vital for controlling your metabolism. And as Dr Mark Vanderpump, president of the British Thyroid Association, explains: "When everything runs smoothly we're not aware it's there, but when something goes wrong the gland can produce too much or too little hormone. While in some people this can cause minor symptoms, in others the effects can be devastating, requiring lifetime treatment," says Mark. Here we help you spot the signs.

Real life story

'So tired I fell asleep at wheel of my car'

Foster carer Diane Mitchell, 48, from Blackpool, says: "I'd always been slim but after I had two children I couldn't shift the weight. Then in the shower my hair fell out in clumps, I developed dry skin and cracked nails, and I was so tired I fell asleep at the wheel of my car. I woke as it swerved into the pavement. Doctors put it down to being a new mum but, luckily, my GP checked my hormone levels. My thyroid was underactive and I was prescribed thyroxin. It took months to kick in, but then I lost weight and started to feel more energetic. I'll be on medication for life and I've developed inflammatory arthritis – a side effect. I'm also tired again."


What is it?

Your thyroid produces too much hormone (hyperthyroidism) and it affects one in 50 women. Causes include Graves' disease – an autoimmune condition where your body attacks itself – nodules on the gland, or a reaction to supplements or medication. In rare cases it can be down to cancer.


Common symptoms, similar to an underactive thyroid, are feeling tired, mood swings, weight gain, heart palpations, sweating and lighter periods. Signs unique to an overactive thyroid include bulging eyes and swelling in the neck.


The most common treatment is tablets to stop your gland producing too many hormones, though radiotherapy may be used to shrink the gland. Surgery to remove all or part of the gland is permanent, but leaves you needing hormone replacement tablets for life.


What is it?

Around 15 in 10,000 women have the condition (hypothyroidism), caused when the body produces an antibody that attacks your thyroid gland, stopping it producing enough thyroxin. Treatment for an overactive thyroid can also bring it on.


Low thyroxin levels create symptoms that can appear straight away or months later. They include weight gain, depression, dry and scaly skin, brittle hair and nails, loss of libido and irregular or heavy periods. Some people may get all of these, some just one or two. They tend to become more severe over time.


A blood test will measure hormone levels and hormone–replacement tablets can be used. It can take a few months for the benefits to be seen, although some sufferers feel the effects straight away. The dose may need to be altered and patients can be on them for life. There's no evidence of long–term side effects.


IN THE NECK Swelling is one of the signs of an overactive thyroid
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 19, 2014
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