Doctor Google, the arch enemy of any good GP, often unfairly blames thyroid problems for common health issues.
Your thyroid is an interesting little fellow. It’s the butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. The ‘wings’ of the thyroid wrap around your windpipe.
Its job is to regulate your metabolism. Your thyroid does this by releasing hormones carried to every cell in your body.
ON THIS PAGE
- Symptoms of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism
- What do these symptoms mean?
- Diagnosis and treatment
- Visit you GP if concerned
- About Dr Rachael Sutherland
Too much of any thyroid hormone speeds up your metabolism, which is known as hyperthyroidism.
Too little slows down your metabolism, known as hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism
Symptoms of thyroid problems like these are identical to those a healthy person may occasionally experience.
Hyperthyroidism symptoms include:
- weight loss;
- sensitivity to heat;
- heart palpitations;
- tremors, and
Hypothyroidism symptoms include:
- weight gain;
- sensitivity to the cold;
- dry skin;
- constipation, and
What do These Symptoms Mean?
Exhibiting these symptoms doesn’t mean you have either disease – contrary to what many wellness bloggers, Instagram health influencers, and Doctor Google might have you believe.
Unsurprisingly, their ‘diagnosis’ typically involves pushing expensive detox formulations or herbal supplements.
Some healing crystals, perhaps?
More often than not, factors unrelated to your thyroid cause the above symptoms. Hypothyroidism, for example, affects around 6-10% of women under 65 years old.
My guess is ten times this amount of women experience weight gain, dry skin or constipation throughout life.
I’m not suggesting you ignore signs of poor health; far from it.
If you exhibit multiple indicators at the same time, or if your body is telling you something is wrong, hotfoot it to your GP as soon as possible.
Diagnosis and Treatment are Quite Straightforward
Your GP will examine you thoroughly while looking for early signs of thyroid problems. They’ll discuss your health, family history and eliminate any obvious lifestyle factors causing symptoms.
Too much or too little iodine can be the culprit. The thyroid uses iodine to make thyroid hormones.
If either disease is suspected, diagnosis and treatment are relatively straightforward.
We primarily diagnose hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) through blood tests that check for high levels of thyroid hormones.
We’ll also measure your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels.
Secreted from the pituitary gland, TSH stimulates your thyroid to produce hormones, and low blood levels of TSH may suggest your thyroid is making too much hormone.
Treatment methods vary depending on the cause and severity of the disease. They include anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine therapy (yes, it’s perfectly safe) or, in extreme cases, surgery.
We diagnose hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) through blood tests and ultrasound or radioactive iodine scans.
I see many more cases in women than men, especially older ladies, and it’s also widespread in pregnant women.
We use hormone replacement tablets to treat hypothyroidism.
Sometimes the disease is caused by an iodine deficiency. A diet that includes fish, seaweed, eggs and dairy can help maintain healthy iodine levels.
Beware of the many thyroid supplements and iodine boosters on the market. The problem with these is that taking too much iodine can lead to hyperthyroidism.
Visit Your GP if Concerned
So, don’t panic if you exhibit symptoms like those listed above. Chances are it has absolutely nothing to do with a poorly functioning thyroid.
My door is always open to all concerns about your health, no matter how small or what the cause.
A wonderful part of my job is reassuring patients they have nothing to worry about and will live to see another day.
And maybe Doctor Google the flick. I reckon he should’ve been de-registered years ago.
Dr Rachael Sutherland is a senior GP at Doctors of South Melbourne.