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Thyroid problems

6-minute read

Key facts

  • The thyroid is a gland in your neck that helps control many of your body's most important functions.
  • If your thyroid becomes overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism), you can experience a range of health problems.
  • Once diagnosed, most thyroid problems can usually be treated effectively.

What is the thyroid?

The thyroid is a gland in your neck, near the base of your throat.

The thyroid gland makes hormones that help control many of your body's metabolic processes, such as:

  • heart rate
  • blood pressure
  • body temperature
  • weight

What types of thyroid problems are there?

There are several conditions that can affect your thyroid gland. Because your thyroid gland plays an important role in controlling many of your body's functions, serious health problems can result when it is not working as it should.

Some thyroid problems cause an enlarged thyroid (goitre).


Hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid is overactive and makes too much thyroid hormone.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • feeling anxious or nervous
  • being unable to tolerate heat
  • having heart palpitations
  • losing weight, even if you're eating the same amount of food

The effect of too much thyroid hormone on your body is sometimes called 'thyrotoxicosis'.


Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid is underactive and doesn't make enough thyroid hormone.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism can be quite varied. They can include:

What causes thyroid problems?

Problems with the thyroid can be caused by:

Occasionally, pregnancy can cause thyroid problems to start or get worse. If left untreated, this can cause problems for you and your baby, such as:

If you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, talk to your doctor about your risk of having a thyroid disorder.

When should I see my doctor?

If you think you may have a thyroid problem, it's important to see your doctor.

See your doctor if you have:

  • symptoms of an overactive thyroid
  • symptoms of an underactive thyroid
  • a lump or swelling in your neck
  • concerns about your risk of thyroid problems during pregnancy

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What are the complications of thyroid problems?

If you have a thyroid problem that is not treated properly, serious health complications can result.

An enlarged thyroid, or goitre, may cause problems with swallowing and breathing.

Graves' disease can cause eye and skin problems.

An overactive thyroid can lead to problems including:

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause complications such as:

Complications that need immediate medical attention

Thyroid storm is a severe excess of thyroid hormone. Symptoms can include:

Thyroid storm is a life-threatening emergency that requires urgent medical attention.

Myxoedema coma is a rare, life-threatening condition caused by untreated, severe hypothyroidism. It causes:

  • drowsiness that can lead to unconsciousness
  • slow breathing
  • low body temperature

Myxoedema requires urgent medical attention.

Resources and support

The Australian Thyroid Foundation provides information and support for people with thyroid conditions.

Hormones Australia offers support and resources on the thyroid gland and conditions affecting the thyroid.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2023

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