Home Business News Tired, gaining weight or depressed? 10% of Brits may have urgent condition taking 4 years to diagnose

Tired, gaining weight or depressed? 10% of Brits may have urgent condition taking 4 years to diagnose

by LLB staff reporter
19th Apr 24 7:11 am

Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) affects up to 10% of the population. Untreated, it can result in decreased cardiac output, high blood pressure and ‘atherosclerosis’ – a build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances in the artery walls, potentially causing blood clots.

It’s identifiable with a simple blood test, yet researchers from the University of Aberdeen found it takes an average of 4.5 years for thyroid conditions to be diagnosed, particularly for patients with hypothyroidism. In most cases, it took multiple appointments and a worsening of the severity of symptoms before a diagnosis was made.

Now a leading expert says all UK adults should take a thyroid function blood test to find out if their hormone levels are correct or whether vital treatment is needed.

Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘Up to 10% of people are likely to be suffering from an underactive thyroid, according to research published in the DeBakey Cardiovascular Journal. Yet the Aberdeen study published last year found that it can take 4.5 years for people to be diagnosed with this potentially fatal condition.

‘Particularly concerning is the fact that 25% of individuals over the age of 65 exhibit thyroiditis (a swelling of the thyroid which can lead to unusually high or low levels of thyroid hormones in the blood), highlighting a marked vulnerability among older people.

‘The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck. It produces hormones that control the body’s growth and metabolism, affecting heart rate, energy levels and weight management, among other functions. This can lead to hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Signs of hypothyroidism can include:

  • tiredness
  • dry skin
  • thinning hair
  • weight gain
  • intolerance of cold
  • heavy periods
  • reduced fertility
  • memory loss
  • poor concentration
  • depression

‘Left untreated, hypothyroidism can result in the increased risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s because low levels of the hormone thyroxine can lead to increased levels of cholesterol in your blood. This causes fatty deposits to build up in your arteries, restricting the flow of blood. This can ultimately lead to strokes and heart attacks.

‘In rare cases, a severe underactive thyroid may also lead to a life-threatening condition called myxoedema coma. Thyroid hormone levels become very low, causing symptoms such as confusion, hypothermia and drowsiness.

‘Despite the amount of people it affects, and the dangers associated with the condition, medical professionals can be slow to diagnose the problem. The University of Aberdeen study found patients, particularly women, were dismissed out of hand with patronising comments such as “eat more vegetables”, “take up jogging”, “it’s laziness” and “it’s all in your head” by GPs and even consultants.

‘My colleague, Dr Peter Basile, has explored the issue in his London Medical Laboratory Spotify Let’s Talk About Health series podcast. In the episode Underactive Thyroid, he reveals women’s symptoms are often taken as signs of the menopause and may be overlooked for years because they develop slowly.

‘That’s why it is notoriously difficult to diagnose thyroid problems without a blood test. A thyroid function test is the only accurate way to diagnose thyroid problems. These may be available from your doctor but are also available as a simple, but highly accurate, finger-prick blood test.

‘London Medical Laboratory’s Thyroid Function – Diagnosis and Monitoring test gives a good indication as to whether the thyroid is functioning normally or not by checking levels of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) and Free T4 (FT4). The test can be taken at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer it across London and nationwide in over 120 selected pharmacies and health stores.

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