The thyroid gland plays a huge role in your life and health, and affects almost every organ in the body in some way. It produces hormones that regulate your metabolism and make your body function efficiently by determining how much energy and oxygen your body uses. The gland also keeps your digestive system operating smoothly, and affects the health of your skin and your muscle tone. When your thyroid is out of sorts, both your physical and mental health suffer; yet, often people don't realize the gland is playing up until they become severely ill. Watch for these symptoms to catch problems early.
- Weigh yourself regularly and keep track of any significant weight loss or gain. Unexplained weight gain is the most common symptom of hypothyroidism, which is an under-active thyroid, particularly in women over 60 years of age. If you gain more than five pounds in a short time, consult with a doctor and ask to take a blood test.
- Keep a wellness journal and record the frequency and severity of any symptoms of thyroid disease that you experience. Fatigue, depression and muscle weakness are symptoms of hypothyroidism, which are often overlooked or attributed to growing older. Take your journal with you to your annual physical exam because it will help your Atlanta doctor identify any conditions you might have.
- Investigate any unexplained pain you experience. Pain is the body's way of telling us something is wrong, so if you suddenly develop unusual aches, pains, stiffness, swelling or general tenderness in the joints, don't assume it's a natural part of aging. Get it checked out.
- Check and record your heart rate regularly for any changes in its rhythm. This can be done by either taking your pulse or by consulting with a medical professional. Your heart is the most vital organ and is often the "first responder" when other parts of the body are affected. Hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid can be as dangerous as an under-active gland, and one of the primary symptoms is increased heart rate. If you find yourself having palpitations after mild exercise, get it checked out urgently.
- Monitor your bowel movements and record any sudden changes. These could include constipation, which is a symptom of hypothyroidism. More frequent bowel movements can also indicate hyperthyroidism. If constipation or frequent bowel movements last longer than two weeks, consider whether you have any of the other characteristics of this disease and see your doctor.
Individually, most symptoms of hypo- or hyperthyroidism are difficult to identify. The clues lie in the combination of the symptoms and their affect on your overall health and well being. If you develop two or more of these conditions simultaneously, a simple blood test will determine whether your gland is healthy or if there is cause for concern.
Treatment is usually given in the form of medication to manage the condition, and you can live a long and healthy life without symptoms if you take medicine regularly.