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Hypothyroidism: Five signs in your nails that may be signalling an underactive thyroid

Dr Renee talks about symptoms of hypothyroidism

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Hypothyroidism is diagnosed when the thyroid gland produces insufficient amounts of hormone to sustain the body’s needs. The butterfly-shaped gland secretes these hormones to regulate several biological processes in the body, including metabolism. Without it, bodily changes are likely to occur in the hands, and particularly in the nails.

According to Harvard Health, the “thyroid regulates the body’s metabolism by sending thyroid hormone to the organs through the blood”.

As the body suffers a shortfall of thyroid hormone, changes are likely to occur in the nails.

These may include:

  • Brittle fingernails
  • White ridges on the nails
  • Nail splitting
  • Slow fingernail growth.

Sometimes the hands also become vulnerable to cold as the thyroid also regulates body temperature.

If the condition advances many other processes will likely slow down, which can lead to water retention around the hands and lower body.

The health body Health Central explains: “Hypothyroidism can cause puffiness, fluid retention and swelling, known as oedema.

“You may notice this symptom in your face and around your eyes, as well as in your hands and feet.”

Complications of leaving the condition untreated range from infertility to a life-threatening slowdown of basic bodily functions.

This is known as myxoedema, which occurs after a long history of hypothyroidism.

Medscape explains that the term myxoedema is “generally used to denote severe hypothyroidism”.

It occurs when chains of sugar molecules are deposited in the skin, which attracts water and leads to swelling.

At this stage of the condition, the body will suffer:

  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Swelling of the face, tongue and lower legs
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Slow heart rate.

The American Thyroid Association explains that if patients are not treated promptly at this stage, many do not survive.

How to prevent hypothyroidism

Although anyone can develop hypothyroidism, the risk is greater if you:

  • Are a woman
  • Are older than 60
  • Have a family history of thyroid disease.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, hypothyroidism cannot be prevented, so the best way to avoid suffering complications from the disease is to look for the signs.

The majority of cases result from the immune system launching an attack on the thyroid gland and damaging it, which is known as Hashimoto’s disease.

Other cases can occur through damage from medications targeting thyroid cancer or an overactive thyroid.

Less often, the condition may result from an iodine deficiency, which is a trace mineral essential for the production of thyroid hormones.

Although rare, iodine deficiency can be avoided by eating seafood, seaweeds, plants grown in iodine-rich soil and iodised salt.

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