20 million Americans have thyroid conditions, but most don’t know it. Here are a few common thyroid symptoms that should prompt a visit to the doctor’s office.
Do you have an overactive or underactive thyroid?
According to the American Thyroid Association, about 12 percent of Americans will have thyroid conditions at some point in their lives. By their estimate, 20 million Americans currently have thyroid conditions, but over half are completely unaware.
Why is that? Most people aren’t aware of the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction. In fact, a large portion of people are unaware of what the even thyroid does.
How do I know if I have an over-active thyroid or not? I don't even know if I have a thyroid at all.
— Ashley X (@wellybadger) May 3, 2012
The thyroid is a gland that controls metabolism and sends hormones throughout the body. It’s shaped like a butterfly, and it’s located near the base of your neck.
“It produces hormones that regulate your metabolism by controlling how many calories you burn, as well as how fast or slow your brain, heart, liver, and other organs work,” endocrinologist Christian Nasr, medical director of the Thyroid Center at the Cleveland Clinic, told Health.com.
Because it plays a critical role in your overall health, you should know some of the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction.
Before we get to the symptoms, however, an important note: If you have any of these symptoms, seek assistance from a qualified physician. Only a doctor can diagnose thyroid issues, and this article is intended to raise awareness, not to function as medical advice.
With that said, let’s look at 12 of the most common symptoms, as explained by medical professionals and sources.
A recent study in the journal Frontiers found a link between hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) and chronic fatigue syndrome.
While further studies will help us understand the link, the Frontier findings make sense. The thyroid controls metabolism, which affects your weight and your ability to store and use energy. If the gland isn’t functioning properly, you may notice regular fatigue, even after you’ve had 8 to 10 hours of quality sleep.
However, note that between 50 and 70 million people in the United States have sleep or wakefulness disorders. Sleep disturbances are also linked to a number of other diseases and disorders, including depression, hypertension, sleep apnea, and more, so you should undergo a sleep study to definitively diagnose the issue.
2. Anxiety and Depression
According to Harvard Health Publishing, when the thyroid gland creates too much or too little of the hormone it uses to regulate metabolism patients often report mood disturbances.
These can manifest in a variety of ways, depending on the nature of your condition, but if you’re feeling anxious, jittery, nervous, or depressed, there’s a chance that your thyroid is to blame.
Without getting too graphic, hypothyroidism is associated with constipation.
This is because your thyroid’s main role is—you guessed it—metabolism, and it therefore controls the function of your digestive tract. When your body isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone, you’ll have trouble “producing,” to use a very strained euphemism.
Thyroid hyperactivity, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect, causing excessive trips to the bathroom. Any sudden changes in your digestive habits are a good reason to see your doctor, since they can be indicative of other medical conditions.
4. Random Sweat
“Is it hot in here, or is it just me and my hyperactive thyroid?”
If your body is having a tough time regulating its energy production, you may start sweating at apparently random times. You may also feel extremely warm, even when the room is cold. You might also feel perfectly comfortable as you’re sweating up a storm, though this symptom depends on the person.
5. Weight Management Issues
This is the thyroid dysfunction symptom that most people know about: if you have an underactive thyroid, you might gain weight easily.
If you have an overactive thyroid, you might have trouble putting weight on.
Try not to get too obsessed with overall “weight,” though, since that can be misleading. Body fat percentage is a better metric to track, since weight varies considerably throughout the day.
More importantly, pay attention to how you feel, and note any sudden changes in your appetite. If you’re eating a lot, but you’re always hungry and you can’t put on weight, hyperthyroidism might be the culprit.
6. Changes in Taste
Thyroid dysfunction can change how you taste certain foods, since your body will incorrectly gauge how much nutrition you need—and what type of nutrition.
If you suddenly start craving certain foods and your appetite changes dramatically, you could be producing a different amount of thyroid hormone.
7. Thinning Hair
Severe and prolonged issues with your thyroid, according to the British Thyroid Foundation, can cause hair loss. When your thyroid isn’t functioning correctly, your body wrongly assumes that it needs to divert resources to essential body functions. In other words, your body thinks that it has very limited energy reserves, so it goes into a “conservation mode” that de-prioritizes anything that doesn’t keep you alive.
Unfortunately, your hair might be one of the top targets of these misguided conservation efforts. People with thyroid issues (especially hyperthyroidism) often notice thinning hair. In some cases, they’ll lose hair entirely, but the good news is that adequate treatment will usually restore hair.
8. Muscle Soreness
Thyroid issues can be painful. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical symptoms include aching extremities, muscle pain, tenderness, and stiffness. If you have arthritis, the condition may be worsened by thyroid dysfunction. Severe thyroid issues can also manifest with painful aches in the neck (where the thyroid is located).
You might also notice cold sensations in your fingers and toes along with occasional numbness. This is, again, due to changes in your body’s energy regulation.
9. Visible Lumps
If you notice lumps in your neck, these could be signs of a thyroid condition, but they could also be a goiter—an enlarged but perfectly functional thyroid—or simply enlarged lymph nodes.
The American Thyroid Association suggests that if you notice any visible change, see a doctor right away for proper diagnosis.
10. Dry Skin
While hyperthyroidism may make you sweat too much, as mentioned earlier, it’s also possible your body might not sweat enough due to hypothyroidism. The lack of moisture can quickly result in dry, flaky, or itchy skin.
The limited hormone production will also affect other parts of your body; you might notice cracked, brittle fingernails and toenails, for instance. Of course, dry nails and skin can also be caused by a lack of hydration, so make sure you’re drinking enough water.
The Mayo Clinic recommends eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid per day, noting that any fluid counts toward the daily total.
11. High Blood Pressure
It is known that both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can result in high blood pressure, although scientists disagree about the specific mechanism that causes that high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association.
The most popular theory is that low thyroid hormones will slow the heartbeat, affecting the flexibility of blood vessel walls and eventually resulting in high blood pressure. Likewise, high thyroid hormones cause the heart to beat faster, creating a more direct effect.
In either case, sudden changes in blood pressure always warrant a medical examination, so if this is something you’re experiencing, you should speak with your physician.
12. Menstrual Cycle Changes
Women with thyroid issues may experience sudden changes with their periods, although this isn’t always directly linked with thyroid hormone production.
Instead, metabolism changes may prompt a woman’s body to go into an anemic state (meaning a deficiency of red blood cells). This can cause fertility issues, so, again, it’s a symptom that shouldn’t be ignored. If you notice any changes in your menstrual cycle, tell your doctor right away.
So, what do you do if you have hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or thyroid disease?
First things first: get to your doctor. No internet article can provide treatment advice—it can only make you aware of the potential symptoms and issues they cause.
For the millionth time, please get your medical advice from a doctor! Not from Twitter. Not from WebMD. Not from the Internet.
— Anna Biotic (@gettingthere88) February 28, 2017
Typical treatment strategies involve short-term hormone therapy, which can restore normal functionality very quickly. Your doctor may also look into the causes of the thyroid condition, as some are commonly caused by autoimmune disorders, medications, and other obvious triggers that will need to be addressed for a long-term cure.
Remember, medical diagnoses should always be handled by a qualified physician. Many of the symptoms on this list can also apply to other conditions, so don’t assume that you have a thyroid issue when you speak with your physician.
There’s good news, however: if you do have a thyroid disorder, you can often treat it safely and effectively in a matter of months.