Thyroid Disease Symptoms You Should Be Aware Of

Here are some key signs you may have a problem with your thyroid.

Your thyroid—a small gland in your neck shaped like a butterfly—greatly impacts your body. It produces thyroid hormone (TH), which is responsible for keeping your metabolism, heartbeat, and more in check. 

But if the thyroid gland produces too much or too little TH, many health problems can ensue. Here's what you should know about some of the most common symptoms of thyroid diseases.

Thyroid Problems

There are a few health conditions that are associated with the thyroid. An underactive thyroid, called hypothyroidism, doesn't produce enough TH. And an overactive thyroid, called hyperthyroidism, makes too much TH. 

In addition to those diseases, thyroid diseases can also include:

  • Thyroid cancer
  • Thyroid nodules
  • Thyroiditis (swelling of the thyroid)

Thyroid Disease Symptoms

TH controls many aspects of the human body. Therefore, thyroid diseases cause several different symptoms. Find out if any symptoms you are experiencing may be related to thyroid disease. 

But remember that just because one of the following symptoms links to a thyroid disease does not mean you have a thyroid disease. In any case, it's best to consult a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis.

Fatigue

Feeling tired and having no energy are associated with many conditions but are strongly linked with hypothyroidism. If you're still tired in the morning or all day after a full night's sleep, that's a clue that your thyroid may be underactive.

Too little TH coursing through your bloodstream and cells means your muscles aren't getting that get-going signal.

Depression and Anxiety

With an underactive thyroid that turns other body systems down to "low," it's not surprising that your mood might sink there, too.

Some evidence suggests that 60% of people with hypothyroidism have depression symptoms. Why? A thyroid that doesn't produce enough TH negatively impacts brain development and function. Anxiety and "feeling wired" are also associated with hyperthyroidism. Flooded with consistent "all systems go" messages, your whole body may spin into overdrive.

Changes in Appetite

TH is one factor influencing appetite, and hyperthyroidism can increase your appetite. So, even though hyperthyroidism is typically associated with weight loss, you may gain weight due to increased appetite.

But appetite-related symptoms are not the same for everyone. For example, adults over 60 may lose their appetite instead of increasing it.

Brain Fog

Sure, it could be caused by sleep deprivation or aging, but cognitive functioning can take a hit when your thyroid is out of whack, too. For example, hyperthyroidism can cause difficulty concentrating. In contrast, hypothyroidism may cause forgetfulness and general brain fog.

With hypothyroidism, brain fog may cause symptoms like:

  • Low energy
  • Forgetfulness
  • Sleepiness
  • Difficulty focusing

Brain fog symptoms can even persist after your TH levels are stable at normal levels.

Sexual Dysfunction

Having little or no desire for sexual activity could be a side effect of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. A dysfunctioning thyroid may impact the following:

  • Desire
  • Arousal
  • Orgasm
  • Satisfaction

Some people with thyroid disorders also experience pain during intercourse. But while little TH could contribute to low libido, the impact of other symptoms—weight gain, low energy, and body aches and pains—could also play a part.

Heart Problems

Heart palpitations can feel like your heart is fluttering, skipping a beat or two, or beating too hard or quickly. You may notice those feelings in your chest or at pulse points in your throat or neck. 

TH plays a role in heart function. For example, heart palpitations can signify too much TH flooding your system. Between 10% to 25% of people with hyperthyroidism have a rapid heartbeat.

Hypothyroidism can also cause different effects on the heart. With hypothyroidism, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Slow heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Fluid retention (causes swelling)

Heart failure may occur if those symptoms are left untreated.

Skin Issues

Thyroid disease can cause several problems with your skin and nails. You may notice that your skin is dry, pale, or itchy. 

Additionally, other symptoms may include:

  • Deep lines on your palms and soles
  • Swollen face
  • Widening nose
  • Sweating less or more than before
  • Protruding eyes
  • Brittle nails with ridges

You also have a high risk of developing thyroid disease if you have skin conditions like vitiligo, hives, or alopecia areata.

Thinning Hair

If you're shedding more than usual, don't freak out. Hair loss can happen for a variety of reasons­­, like childbirth or overuse of hair products. But hair loss can also be a symptom of thyroid disease.

Thyroid disease can affect the growth and texture of your hair, causing it to appear coarse, dull, dry, brittle, shedding, or thinning. And like itchy skin, your scalp may also become dry and itchy due to thyroid disease. 

Take notice if your hair is growing slowly or more quickly and if you are experiencing any bald patches.

Constipation and Diarrhea

People with hypothyroidism sometimes complain of constipation. When something disrupts the production of TH, that may cause your digestive processes to slow. In contrast, an overactive thyroid gland can cause diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements.

Irregular Periods

Your thyroid also plays a role in the menstrual cycle. If your thyroid makes too much or too little TH, that can throw off your menstrual cycle. 

For example, you may have light, heavy, or irregular periods. Thyroid disease can also cause amenorrhea, when your periods stop for several months or more. Thyroid disease can also cause you to go into menopause early, before age 40.

Muscle Pain

Sometimes, you work out too hard, and your muscles feel sore afterward. But mysterious or sudden pain or weakness can signify thyroid disease.

It isn't very clear why thyroid disease causes problems with muscles. But some evidence suggests that a deficiency in TH can impair the cells' function, leading to muscle pain and weakness.

About 80% of people with hypothyroidism experience hypothyroid myopathy, which is muscle pain or weakness. If untreated, the muscles can become severely affected, which may cause limited mobility.

Cold and Heat Tolerance

One of the symptoms of hypothyroidism is trouble tolerating the cold. When an underactive thyroid slows down body systems, your cells may have less energy to burn. And less energy means less heat.

On the other hand, an overactive thyroid puts energy-producing cells into overdrive. So, people with hyperthyroidism may have trouble tolerating heat.

Lump in Your Throat

A change in your voice or a lump in your throat could signify a thyroid disorder. An enlarged thyroid, called a goiter, may look like your neck is swollen.

One way to check is to look at your neck to see if you can detect any signs of thyroid swelling. You can physically check your thyroid at home with these directions from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. 

Using a hand mirror, watch your throat as you swallow a drink of water. Look for bulges or protrusions in the thyroid area, below your Adam's apple but above your collarbone. You may want to try that several times to get the hang of where your thyroid is. 

See a healthcare provider if you see anything that's lumpy or suspicious.

Difficulty Sleeping

Various health problems, from depression to cardiovascular disease and thyroid disease, may lead to insufficient sleep.

In one study published in 2021 in Frontiers in Endocrinology, 66% of people with hyperthyroidism reported difficulty falling asleep. The researchers linked elevated TH levels with difficulty maintaining sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, and taking a long time to fall asleep.

Fluctuations in Weight

TH regulates metabolism. So, weight gain and weight loss are common thyroid disease symptoms. Hypothyroidism typically causes weight gain. In contrast, hyperthyroidism usually causes weight loss. 

The severity of weight loss also relates to the severity of hyperthyroidism. So, the more severe the hyperthyroidism, the greater the weight loss. As for hypothyroidism, severe weight gain is rare.

Problems with Pregnancy

Starting to think about having a family? Since thyroid disease affects the menstrual cycle, it also affects when you ovulate. Hypothyroidism can cause excess prolactin, the hormone that makes breast milk. Excess prolactin can prevent ovulation, which causes difficulties if you're trying to get pregnant.

Not only does thyroid disease make it difficult to become pregnant, it also can affect the pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones raise levels of TH that are essential for the fetus's brain development. 

Additionally, if untreated, thyroid disease may cause the following complications:

  • Miscarriage
  • Low birth weight
  • Preeclampsia
  • Premature birth

Getting Tested for Thyroid Disease

See a healthcare provider if you have one or more of these symptoms and suspect it's your thyroid. A healthcare provider may do blood tests, including a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test or Free T3 and Free T4 tests.

A healthcare provider may prescribe synthetic hormones based on your results, symptoms, and physical exam. Testing and treating a thyroid disorder takes a bit of trial and error, so expect to visit an endocrinologist a few times before finding the best treatment for you.

A Quick Review

Diagnosing a thyroid disorder may be difficult since the symptoms can be similar to other health problems.

If you suspect you have a thyroid problem or have a family history of thyroid disease, take note of changes in appetite, fatigue, constipation or diarrhea, difficulty getting pregnant, or dry skin. Notify a healthcare provider if you are concerned about thyroid disease.

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Sources
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