What is hyperthyroidism? The condition affects 10 times more women than men
As much as we like to say that we're in touch with our bodies, ask us what is hyperthyroidism, and many would struggle to give an answer.
The fact of the matter is that we should probably care more, because not only does the gland have a great impact on the body, but thyroid diseases are far more common in women.
In fact, hyperthyroidism - that is, an overactive thyroid gland - affects 10 times more women than men. It can cause everything from anxiety to heat sensitivity. Oh, and it can even affect your weight.
According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. However, a shocking 60% of these people remain blissfully unaware of the condition while it saps their health.
What is hyperthyroidism?
The thyroid is a little butterfly-shaped gland that’s found in the lower neck, just in front of the windpipe.
Its main job is to produce the hormones that help to regulate the body’s metabolism. For those who want the science stuff, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) are the two main players.
When the thyroid goes out of whack and produces either too much or too little of these hormones, it can cause many of the rest of the body’s functions to be thrown off balance too. Cue you feeling run down for months on end, with no obvious reason.
What are the symptoms of hyperthyroidism?
So, what are the main symptoms that something is wrong? Well, that depends on whether the thyroid is overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism). But either way, they’re all pretty easy to overlook and mistake for something else entirely.
In the case of an overactive thyroid, symptoms can include nervousness, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, constantly feeling tired, increased sensitivity to heat, heart palpitations, weight loss, and swelling in your neck.
Many of these symptoms also exist with an under-active thyroid, although some are reversed. For example, while the tiredness and the moodiness may still be present, you’re more likely to experience weight gain than weight loss (it might due to the extra biscuits after all) and feel the cold sharply. Other common symptoms include dry hair and skin, and muscle aches.
The slightly annoying thing is that despite the prevalence of thyroid disorders, the causes of them still remain largely unknown. There does seem to be a strong link between hyperthyroidism and other medical conditions. Including Graves’ disease - an autoimmune disease where your immune system gets confused and accidentally attacks the healthy stuff - as well as certain medications and the presence of nodules on the thyroid.
With hypothyroidism, the most common cause appears to be Hashimoto’s disease. This is where the body breaks down the thyroid gland so it can no longer produce the necessary hormones.
Hyperthyroidism can be easy to diagnose
In any case, the good news is that once the symptoms have been identified, thyroid diseases can be fairly easy to diagnose.
Usually, your doctor will talk you through your symptoms and do a physical examination. They will also order some tests that screen the levels of the hormones present in your blood.
Chances are, you probably already know someone with thyroid disease. But if not, there's a whole host of famous faces that have fought their own battles. These include actress, Kim Cattrall, and supermodel, Gigi Hadid.
It's clear then that a thyroid disease can have a major effect on your day-to-day life. It can affect everything from how sprightly you feel to your confidence when slipping on that pair of jeans.
Ultimately, no one is exactly sure why so many more women than men are affected, but doctors think that it might have something to do with the fact that autoimmune diseases are themselves much more common in women. But given that it’s so widespread, it’s pretty clear that we should all be in the know about what to watch for.