Of the 20 million Americans with some form of thyroid disease, 60 percent have no idea they have it. Learn more about the symptoms of thyroid problems.
Hyperthyroidism vs. hypothyroidism
Your thyroid gland, which is located in the middle of your lower neck and is shaped like a butterfly, regulates your body’s metabolism. In simple terms, the thyroid gland affects energy levels and heart rate. You can have an underactive thyroid, which is called hypothyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, which is called hyperthyroid. Here’s what you need to know about symptoms of thyroid problems.
An undiagnosed thyroid problem, whether it’s underactive or overactive, puts people at risk for cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, and infertility. Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism affect both men and women. However, women are five times more likely than men to develop a thyroid problem, and one out of every eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.
Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone.
Symptoms of thyroid problems
Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- Extreme fatigue. You feel like you could sleep all day, even if you had a full eight hours of sleep at night.
- Depression. This includes mood swings and anxiety.
- Forgetfulness. You can experience poor concentration.
- Weight gain. Even if you are not overeating, you can have trouble losing weight.
- Cold hands and feet. Or feeling cold all of the time, even when it’s hot outside.
- Dry skin. Your nails can become brittle, and you can have excessive hair loss, too.
- Hormone imbalances. You may experience irregular periods, intense PMS (premenstrual syndrome), infertility, or a low sex drive.
Many of these symptoms are vague enough to be overlooked by your physician. If you have any of these symptoms of an underactive thyroid, talk to your doctor.
A number of the symptoms of an overactive thyroid differ from those of an underactive one. Some, however, are similar. Hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone.
Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
- Irritability. Mood swings, nervousness, and anxiety are similar to those of an underactive thyroid.
- Sweating. Again, just like with hypothyroidism, you may feel like you’re overheated most of the time.
- Sudden weight loss. Your appetite may increase and you still drop the pounds.
- Rapid heartbeat. You may have an irregular heartbeat or feel like your heart is pounding.
- Tremors. Your hands and fingers may tremble.
- Irregular menstrual cycle. You may have increased or decreased menstruation.
- Changes in bowel movements. You may need to go to the bathroom more than normal.
- An enlarged thyroid gland. If this occurs, you’ll see a swelling at the base of your neck where your thyroid gland is located.
- Feeling tired. In addition to feeling fatigued, your muscles may ache.
- Insomnia. You may have trouble sleeping.
- Brittle hair. The texture of your hair may change.
What causes signs of thyroid problems?
Like the symptoms, the causes of an underactive and an overactive thyroid are different and in some cases can overlap.
Causes of hypothyroidism
- Hashimoto’s disease. This is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks thyroid tissue. Over time, the tissue dies and stops producing thyroid hormones. The exact cause of Hashimoto’s is not entirely known. Many researchers believe it’s hereditary; if one or both of your parents have it, your chances of having it too are increased.
- Removal of the thyroid gland. The thyroid can be removed surgically or chemically destroyed.
- Too much iodine. Some cold and sinus medications, heart medicines, or dyes given before some x-rays may expose you to large amounts of iodine.
- Lithium. Research shows that there’s a link between this drug and hypothyroidism.
Causes of hyperthyroidism
- Graves’s disease. This autoimmune disorder occurs when antibodies produced by your immune system cause your thyroid to produce too much thyroid hormone, called T-4. Researchers are fully sure of what causes Graves’ disease. They do believe it can be genetic.
- Toxic adenoma, toxic multinodular goiter, and Plummer’s disease. These can occur when one or more adenomas (a benign tumor of glandular tissue) of your thyroid produce too much thyroid hormone.
- Thyroiditis. If your thyroid gland becomes inflamed (the cause is unknown), it can cause excess thyroid hormones to leak into your bloodstream.
A simple blood test will confirm if you have an over- or underactive thyroid. Once your doctor finds out the source of your thyroid problem, you’ll be able to control it with medication. Determining the correct dosage may take some time and can also change over time.
Treatment for hypothyroidism
Your doctor will prescribe a daily synthetic thyroid hormone pill. You take the pill approximately the same time every day. If you take vitamins, mineral supplements, or other medications, talk to your doctor. You will most likely space out the time between taking the thyroid medication and your other pills or vitamins. Usually, it’s recommended that you wait at least four hours after taking thyroid meds to consume other pills.
After taking your thyroid medication, you’ll notice feeling less fatigued.
Treatment for hyperthyroidism
Your doctor may prescribe radioactive iodine, which comes in pill form and is absorbed by your thyroid gland.
Anti-thyroid medications are another option. These medications can often clear up the problem permanently. Some people, however, can experience a relapse. Talk to your doctor about any potential side effects caused by these medications.
Your doctor may also prescribe beta blockers. Commonly used to treat high blood pressure, beta blockers can reduce a rapid heart rate and prevent palpitations.
Surgery is an option for those who are pregnant or who have adverse reactions to medications for hyperthyroidism. It’s a rare option where a surgeon removes the thyroid gland. If this is the case, you’ll need to take thyroid medication that supplies your body with normal amounts of thyroid hormones.
If you experience any symptoms of thyroid problems, contact your doctor to schedule a simple blood test to see what the cause might be.
February 21, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN