The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that is located at the front of your neck. It's an important part of your endocrine system; and while it's small in size it's vital to the functioning of the body and has an effect on every cell. When the hormone TSH is produced by your pituitary gland, it signals to the thyroid to create two hormones – thyroxine and triiodothyronine.
These thyroid hormones control your metabolism and how energy is used by different parts of the body. The pituitary gland constantly monitors the levels of these thyroid hormones in your blood stream and tell the thyroid when it needs to increase or decrease its supply of hormones.
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There are two key ways your thyroid can malfunction but there are a number of underlying conditions and causes that leads to both.
Hypothyroidism refers to a condition where the thyroid does not produce enough hormones and your metabolism slows down as a result. The NHS estimates that 15 in 1,000 women and 1 in 1,000 men in the UK are affected by the condition. There are also between 1 in 3,500 and 1 in 4,000 babies born each year in the UK with congenital hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism can occur as a result of some of the following:
Hyperthyroidism refers to a condition where the thyroid produces and releases too much hormones, which then speeds up your metabolism too much. A woman is 10 times more likely to develop this condition and the NHS estimate that as many as 1 in 50 women in the UK have the condition.
Hyperthyroidism can occur as a result of some of the following:
Because the thyroid impacts on every cell in the body, the symptoms can be wide ranging. Some of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
These symptoms can gradually develop over time, so they can go unnoticed for many years. To diagnose an under-active thyroid, you will need to get a blood test called a thyroid function test.
Hyperthyroidism can cause a range of symptoms that are associated with the speed up of your metabolism. These can include:
Hair loss can be caused by severe and prolonged hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism when the hormone imbalances caused as a result, affect the growth of hair. Human hair goes through a growth phase, a rest phase (telogen phase) where hair is shed, and a new hair growth phase. It's thought that thyroid problems can disrupt the new hair growth phase. Because this is part of a longer cycle, it can take several months before the hair loss is noticed. This type of hair loss tends not be limited to specific areas and the loss of hair tends to be diffuse, affecting the whole scalp.
Some anti-thyroid treatment drugs are also thought to contribute to hair loss, as a rare side effect. Although it can be difficult to ascertain whether this is specifically related to the treatment or whether it is as a result of the underlying hyperthyroid condition. These medications include carbimazole and propylthiouracil.
Autoimmune disorders and diseases such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Grave's disease are the most common cause of thyroid disorders. These autoimmune disorders can also place you at an increase likelihood of developing other autoimmune conditions that can cause hair loss, such as alopecia areata. This can cause circular, patchy, discrete areas of hair loss.
Taking daily hormone tablets called levothyroxine, which helps increase your levels of thyroxine produced, can treat an underactive thyroid. For those with hypothyroidism, treatment will normally be required for the rest of your life.
An overactive thyroid can be treated by taking medications that will lower the production of thyroid hormones – such as carbimazole and methimazole. Some people can also benefit from radioiodine treatment, which shrinks the thyroid gland and as a result reduces the level of hormones it produces. In a small number of cases, surgery may be carried out to remove some or all of the thyroid gland.
If you have hair loss as a result of a thyroid disorders, once this under control and hormone levels are balanced, hair growth should resume and within a few months the hair loss should start reversing itself. This hair growth can be unpredictable and some find that their hair regrows with a different colour or texture.