Millions of people are walking time bombs. They’re unaware that they could have a thyroid disorder which, in itself, is not fatal, but left untreated could lead to heart problems. This is particularly true in the case of people with subclinical hypothyroidism, a slightly underactive thyroid. Studies have found that particularly older women with this condition are almost twice as likely to have hardening of the arteries. Their heart attack risk is also double.
Subclinical is a medical term referring to a disease process that has begun but has not yet started showing symptoms.
This condition can arise so gradually and insidiously, and it can be so subtle and seemingly insignificant, that the medical profession has, by and large, ignored it. This is a grave mistake, and more and more doctors are realising that subclinical hypothyroidism (SCH) should be taken seriously and treated.
As females are five times more likely than males to suffer from this condition, it’s also linked to ‘womanly’ problems. Common symptoms like fatigue, mood swings, gaining weight and becoming forgetful are often dismissed as stress, PMS or menopause.
The thyroid gland produces hormones that influence almost every organ, tissue and cell in your body. It regulates your metabolism, controls the speed at which many of your organs operate and even helps determine how fast you think. An underactive thyroid causes a condition called hypothyroidism, in which the thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones and causes everything to slow down, from your heart rate to how fast you digest your food. Thyroid hormones are active throughout a person’s life, but their greatest activity occurs in cold weather, during childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and periods of emotional stress, the last of which can wreak biochemical havoc on many of the body’s functions. On the other hand, an overactive thyroid, known as hyperthyroidism, revs up the body’s factories, causing them to overexert. Subclinical hyperthyroidism exists, too.
Just like flammable gas is considered the lifeblood of a gas stove, so thyroid hormones are essential to the body. The switch can be likened to the thyroid gland, opening the valve to feed the natural gas to the surface burner. The more it’s opened, the more gas is let through, the brighter and higher the flame, and the faster food will cook. Too much flame will result in food getting burnt.
Thyroid function works similarly. Your thyroid makes two main hormones: thyroxine, known as T4; and triiodothyronine, known as T3. These are secreted into your bloodstream and distributed throughout the body. The pituitary gland regularly monitors the amount of T3 and T4 in your blood and when these are low, sends a message to the thyroid gland, in the form of a carrier called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), to produce more.
As long as your thyroid is functioning normally, your TSH and thyroid hormone levels will be fine. If, however, some aspect of your thyroid’s inner functioning becomes degraded or dirty, the biochemical pathway of your thyroid hormones will falter, resulting in a sluggish output. The flame will flicker and splutter, which can be compared to the onset of a heart attack. Like most problems with appliances, heart attacks can strike suddenly, without warning. If you’re lucky, it’s a relatively minor jolt, and you recover.
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