Our Thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland which is located at the base of our neck. Although this gland is relatively small, the thyroid plays a huge role within our body, influencing the functions of many important organs, including our brain, heart, kidneys, liver and skin.

As our Thyroid plays such a vital role of keeping our bodies healthy, it is important to keep an eye on any changes in our loved ones. Our thyroid can become underactive (Hypothyroidism) or overactive (Hyperthyroidism) so it is important to note the differences in symptoms.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is caused by your thyroid gland underproducing the relevant hormones that your body requires. This is more common within women but doesn’t fully exclude males.

You should contact your GP if your loved one is showing signs of Hypothyroidism. These can include but not limited to:

• Sensitivity to cold.

• Tiredness.

• Muscle aches and weakness.

• Muscle cramps.

• Pain, numbness or tingling sensation in the hands and feet.

• Slow movement and thoughts.

• Brittle hair and nails.

• Dry and scaly skin.

Elderly patients with Hypothyroidism may develop problems with their memory and be at an increased risk of depression. There are also later symptoms of Hypothyroidism that you can look for which can include a hoarse voice, puffy face, slow heart rate, anaemia and hearing loss. People suffering from an underactive thyroid have usually been diagnosed before these symptoms occur.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is where our thyroid gland produces an excess of hormones into our bodies. This can cause unpleasant symptoms. These can include:

• Difficulty sleeping.

• Weight loss.

• Trembling or twitching.

• Mood swings.

• Nervousness, anxiety or irritability.

• Sensitivity to heat.

• Unusually fast or irregular heartbeat.

• Persistent thirst.

• Needing to urinate more frequently.

Treatment

Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism can be easily treated once diagnosed, so it isn’t something to be majorly concerned about. Although it is always better to seek medical help as soon as symptoms are noticed.

Hyperthyroidism is commonly treated using medicines, radioactive iodine treatment or through surgery. Medicines called Thionamides are commonly used to help stop the overproduction of hormones. These can take a couple of months to help settle so symptoms may not reduce for a period of time.

Radioactive iodine treatment is a type of radiotherapy and is used to destroy the cells in the thyroid gland to help reduce its production of hormones.

Surgery is where your full gland is removed and is usually only done when other treatments have failed, or your thyroid gland is largely swollen. This would require lifelong medication to replace the production of hormones that the thyroid would usually issue.

Hypothyroidism is more commonly treated with the use of daily hormone replacement tablets. These would replace the thyroxine hormone, which the thyroid isn’t producing enough of. Regular blood tests would be necessary until the correct level of hormone has been reached. This requires a little patience as it can take a little while to maintain the correct dose.

Take the Thyroid neck check:

You can easily check your own or loved one’s Thyroid by taking the neck check, using a hand-held mirror and having a glass of water to hand.

With the mirror in your hand, focusing on the lower front area of your neck, above the collarbone, and below the voice box (this is where your Thyroid gland is located.) Whilst focusing on this area, tilt your head backwards, take a drink of water and swallow. As you swallow, look at your neck and check for any protrusions or bulges. (Don’t confuse these with the Adam’s apple.) If you do notice any unusual bulges, consult your GP.