Feeling Tired & Anxious? It May Be Your Thyroid
Good Housekeeping South Africa|December 2018
Feeling Tired & Anxious? It May Be Your Thyroid

Not many people know much about the small gland in your neck, but it could be causing you all sorts of problems, explains Dr Sarah Brewer

Dr Sarah Brewer

THYROID PROBLEMS ARE COMMON, and women are 10 times more likely to be affected than men. Many cases go unrecognised; an obviously underactive thyroid (known as hypothyroidism) affects one in 50 of us, but one in 12 women has a mild form, which is harder to spot. An overactive thyroid is less common – it affects 1 in 133 people and about half go undiagnosed.


The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the base of the neck, just in front of the windpipe, that produces two iodine-containing hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These boost metabolism by increasing the speed at which cells work and use energy. That means a thyroid gland that is underactive or overactive affects every cell in your body.


Most cases are due to the immune system producing antibodies that attack thyroid cells, leading to inflammation (chronic autoimmune thyroiditis). Many people have no obvious symptoms, but it can cause swelling of the thyroid gland to create a goitre with a sensation of fullness in the neck, pain in the neck or chest and trouble swallowing. Thyroid problems often run in families, suggesting genetic links. They often develop in people with other autoimmune conditions such as coeliac disease and type 1 diabetes. An underactive thyroid gland can also result from treatment to try to correct an overactive thyroid condition.

Key symptoms of an underactive thyroid: low energy and weight gain

The symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) are due to a metabolism that’s set too slow, and can include:

lack of energy, general slowing down

gaining weight and difficulty losing weight

feeling the cold

muscle cramps, pain and weakness

joint pains


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December 2018