What happens when the thyroid gland produces too much or too little of the thyroid hormones?
Located just below the Adam’s apple at the bottom of your neck is a small butterfly-shaped gland called the thyroid. The hormones produced by the thyroid are transported in the blood to every part of the body to control metabolism. This means these hormones influence your breathing, blood circulation, muscle contraction, the rate you burn calories, body temperature, digestion, waste elimination, nerves, and brain.
Thyroid disorders often result in either overproduction or underproduction of thyroid hormones, throwing off the metabolic balances in the body and causing a wide range of symptoms, particularly affecting your weight, energy level, and psychological well-being.
Four main thyroid disorders include goiters, cancer, hyperthyroidism (overproduction of the thyroid hormones), and hypothyroidism (underproduction of the thyroid hormones). Many people with a thyroid problem go undiagnosed, blaming their symptoms on other health conditions, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms for what they are.
One or more of the following symptoms may indicate a thyroid disorder.
Symptom 1: Swelling in the Neck
A thyroid that’s larger than normal is called a goiter. This condition often causes swelling or discomfort in the neck and may be a sign of a thyroid problem or another medical issue that needs to be addressed.
Goiters are commonly caused by a lack of iodine in the diet, which leads to an overproduction of the thyroid hormone. Other causes of a goiter include Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, multinodular goiters, infections, tumors, or genetic defects.
Symptom 2: Muscle and Joint Pain
Don’t be too quick to blame muscle or joint pain on arthritis. Thyroid problems can lead to muscle and joint pain and weakness, carpal tunnel in your hands, tarsal tunnel in your legs, or plantar fasciitis in your feet.
Symptom 3: Digestive Issues
A lack of thyroid hormones may cause severe or chronic constipation. On the other hand, hyperthyroidism may lead to frequent diarrhea or symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Symptom 4: Changes in Hair and Skin
When the thyroid hormones are off balance, your hair may become brittle and dry and may fall out more than usual. The outer edges of your eyebrows may start thinning. Also, your skin may be abnormally dry, rough, thin, or itchy.
Symptom 5: Menstrual and/or Fertility Problems
Hypothyroidism is associated with heavy, painful periods and hyperthyroidism often leads to shorter, lighter, irregular periods. Both may contribute to problems conceiving and infertility.
Symptom 6: High/Low Cholesterol
Do you struggle with managing your cholesterol despite diet, exercise, and medication? You may have an underlying thyroid condition. Hypothyroidism is connected to high cholesterol and hyperthyroidism to low cholesterol.
Symptom 7: Weight Control
Since thyroid hormones help control metabolism, it’s no surprise unexplained weight gain and weight loss are symptoms of a thyroid disorder. If strict dieting and rigorous exercise aren’t making your weight budge, your thyroid may be to blame.
Symptom 8: Psychological Well-Being
Thyroid hormones not only affect your body, but they affect your mind as well. Too few hormones and you may suffer from depression. Too many hormones circulating and you may be susceptible to panic attacks and anxiety.
Symptom 9: Lack of Energy
When you wake up after a full night of sleep, if you feel tired or can hardly make it through the day without a nap, your thyroid may be sleeping, too. An overly active thyroid on the other hand may keep you up at night with insomnia.
See Your Doctor
If any of the symptoms listed above sound all too familiar, make an appointment with your doctor for a thyroid evaluation.