Feeling cold and weight gain are red flags of invisible illness that takes years to spot

Throughout the winter it can sometimes seem impossible to get warm, no matter what we try. We are also prone to eating more calorie-rich foods during this time, inevitably leading to weight gain.

These can also be common side effects of getting older, as our metabolisms can slow down and thinning skin can make it hard to hold on to warmth.

But both gaining weight and constantly feeling cold are red flag symptoms of an “invisible” disease that can go by undiagnosed for years.

According to the NHS these are two classic symptoms of an underactive thyroid – also known as hypothyroidism.

The thyroid gland is a small gland found in the neck, just in front of the windpipe.

One of its main jobs is to create the hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism, which is the process of turning food into energy.

An underactive thyroid gland is where your thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones.

The most common signs of an underactive thyroid are tiredness, weight gain and feeling depressed, which can easily be ignored or mistaken for other problems.

The NHS says: “Many symptoms of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) are the same as those of other conditions, so it can easily be confused for something else.

“Symptoms usually develop slowly and you may not realise you have a medical problem for several years.

“For example, if you are an age where you may be expecting the menopause, you may think you have started the menopause rather than having an underactive thyroid.”

In fact, the symptoms could be easily ignored for years.

One study focused on 1,200 patients, by the University of Aberdeen, found it takes an average of four and a half years for thyroid conditions to be diagnosed.

And this takes “considerably longer” for patients with hypothyroidism, researchers said.

Speaking in a university release, one thyroid patient Natalie Guy, 48, from Bournemouth, said: “Looking back, for more than a decade I had classic thyroid symptoms such as weight gain, digestive issues, puffy face, brain fog, hormone problems and heavy periods that were dismissed out of hand with patronising comments such as ‘eat more vegetables’, ‘take up jogging’,’ it’s laziness’, ‘it’s all in your head’ by my then GP and by a consultant.

“I hope this important research into the impact of thyroid disease, its effect on wellbeing and its financial impact is part of the catalyst for change.

“This lack of diagnosis and earlier treatment affects the social and economic wellbeing on the individual and society.”

Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:

  • Constipation
  • Slow movements and thoughts
  • Muscle aches and weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry and scaly skin
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Loss of libido (sex drive)
  • Pain, numbness and a tingling sensation in the hand and fingers (carpal tunnel syndrome)
  • Irregular periods or heavy periods.

Although hypothyroidism can affect men it is far more common in women.

If you experience any unexplained symptoms you should speak to your GP.


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