It may be a small part of your anatomy … but your thyroid (the butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your throat) is one of the most powerful parts of your body. It produces hormones that regulate everything from your appetite and energy levels to your body’s internal thermostat. It influences, in fact, almost all of the metabolic processes in your body. So when things go wrong, you notice. Although the effects of a misbehaving thyroid can be unpleasant or uncomfortable, most thyroid problems can be managed well if properly diagnosed and treated.
At least 30 million Americans have a thyroid disorder. Women are as much as 10 times as likely as men to have a problem. If you’re a woman over 35, your odds of a thyroid disorder are high – more than 30%, by some estimates. What causes your thyroid to go haywire? It could be genetics, an autoimmune attack, pregnancy, stress, nutritional deficiencies, or toxins in the environment – experts aren’t entirely sure. Because thyroid hormones reach everywhere in the body, diagnosing a disorder can be a challenge. Here’s some possible signs that your thyroid might have issues:
Feeling tired and lacking energy could be symptoms of many issues, but they’re also linked with hypothyroidism, a disorder that’s the result of too little thyroid hormone. If you’re tired after a full night’s sleep, that may be a clue that your thyroid is underactive. A lack of hormone in your bloodstream and cells means your muscles aren’t getting the signal to perform.
You’re in the Dumps
Feeling unusually depressed or sad can also be a symptom of hypothyroidism. It’s thought that the production of too little thyroid hormone can have an impact on levels of serotonin in the brain. With an underactive thyroid turning other body systems down, your mood might sink too.
You Feel Anxious
Anxiety and feeling “wired” are associated with hyperthyroidism, when the thyroid gland is making too much hormone. When your body is flooded with messages to be on high alert, your metabolism and whole body may be working overtime.
Your Appetite Changes
An increased appetite can be a sign of hyperthyroidism leaving you feeling hungry all of the time. The only upside is that the “hyper” part of the disorder typically offsets the caloric impact of an increased appetite so the end result sometimes isn’t weight gain. An underactive thyroid, on the other hand, can mess with your sense of taste and smell.
It’s Hard to Focus
This is another one that could be caused by lack of sleep or aging, but cognitive function can suffer when your thyroid is out of sync. Too much thyroid hormone can make it difficult to concentrate, and too little can trigger forgetfulness and brain fog.
Your Libido Changes
Too little thyroid hormone could be a contributor to a low libido, but the impact of other hypothyroidism symptoms – weight gain, low energy, and body aches and pains – could also play a part.
You’re Heart is all a Flutter
That feeling could be heart palpitations. It can feel like your heartbeat is irregular or beating too hard and quickly. You may notice these feelings in your chest or at pulse points in your throat or neck. Heart flutters or palpitations can be a sign of too many thyroid hormones flooding your system.
You Use Lotion in Bulk
Skin that’s dry and itchy can be a symptom of a thyroid disorder. The change in skin texture and appearance may be due to slowed metabolism (linked to too little thyroid hormone production), which can reduce sweating. Skin without enough moisture can quickly become dry and flaky and nails can become brittle and may develop ridges.
Your Bathroom Schedule is Off
People with hypothyroidism sometimes complain of constipation. The disruption in hormone production can cause a slowdown of digestive processes. On the reverse side of the spectrum, an overactive thyroid gland can cause diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements.
Your Periods have Changed
Longer menstrual periods with a heavier flow and more cramps can be a sign of hypothyroidism. Periods may also be closer together. With hyperthyroidism, high levels of hormone cause menstrual irregularities in a different way. Periods are shorter, farther apart and may be very light.
You have Painful Extremities or Muscles
If you have mysterious and sudden tingling or numbness – or actual pain – in your arms, legs, feet, or hands, that could be a sign of hypothyroidism. Over time, producing too little thyroid hormone can damage the nerves that send signals from your brain and spinal cord throughout your body.
You have High Blood Pressure
Elevated blood pressure can be a symptom of a thyroid disorder. By some estimates, people with hypothyroidism have two to three times the risk of developing hypertension. One theory is that low amounts of thyroid hormone can slow heart beat, which can affect pumping strength and blood vessel wall flexibility.
You Sweat or Wear a Sweater
Feeling cold or having chills is associated with hypothyroidism. The system slow-down caused by an underactive thyroid means less energy is being burned by cells. Less energy equals less heat. On the other hand, an overactive thyroid puts energy-producing cells into overdrive. That’s why people with hyperthyroidism sometimes feel too warm or sweat profusely.
Your Neck Feels Strange
A change in your voice or a lump in your throat could be a sign of a thyroid disorder. One way to check is to take a good look at your neck to see if you can detect any signs of thyroid swelling. You can do a physical check of your own thyroid at home. Using a hand mirror, watch your throat as you swallow a drink of water. Look for any bulges or protrusions in the thyroid area, which is below your Adam’s apple but above your collarbones. If you see anything that’s lumpy or suspicious, see your doctor.
Your Sleep Schedule is a Mess
Want to sleep all of the time? It could be hypothyroidism. A sluggish thyroid can slow bodily functions down to the point where sleeping (even in the daytime) seems like a brilliant idea. Can’t sleep? It could be hyperthyroidism. An overactive thyroid can cause anxiety and rapid pulse, which can make it hard to fall asleep or even wake you in the middle of the night.
You’ve Gained Weight
Going up a few dress sizes can be caused by so many things that it’s unlikely your doctor will look at weight gain alone as a potential thyroid disorder symptom. However, weight gain is one of the top reasons women see their doctor for a thyroid check. On the other end of the scale, a sudden weight loss can signal hyperthyroidism.
Your Hair is Thinning
Dry, brittle hair that breaks or falls out can be a sign of hypothyroidism. Too little thyroid hormone disrupts your hair growth cycle and puts too many follicles into “resting” mode, resulting in hair loss—sometimes all over your body including at the outside of your eyebrows. An overactive thyroid can also do a number on your hair. Hair issues due to hyperthyroidism typically show up as thinning hair just on your head.
If you’ve read through this list and have concerns, get your thyroid tested. Make an appointment with one of our knowledgeable physicians to address your concerns. Based on your symptoms, test results, and a physical exam, you may be prescribed synthetic hormones. Testing and treating a thyroid disorder takes a bit of trial-and-error so expect to visit the doctor a few times before the dosage is right.