Over 12% of Americans have a thyroid condition, and many aren’t even aware of it. Could you be one of them?
“The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck, produces an important hormone called thyroid hormone (TH). TH plays a major role in how our bodies function, and an imbalance in this hormone can impact your energy level, weight, metabolism, heart rate, bowels, mood, cholesterol levels, bones, women’s menstrual cycles, and more,” explains Ben Cooperberg, MD, physician at Penn Endocrinology Washington Square.
Possible Signs or Symptoms of a Thyroid Condition
If you’ve experienced any of the following signs or symptoms it might be time to get your thyroid checked.
Your weight has changed significantly, even though your habits remain the same
Significant and unexplained changes in your weight could be the result of either hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). In hyperthyroidism your thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine which causes your body’s metabolism to hasten, leading to weight loss. In contrast, in hypothyroidism, your body is unable to produce enough thyroxine which causes the metabolism to slow down, thus aiding in your weight gain.
You’ve noticed a change in your appearance
In additional to fluctuations in your weight, look for changes in your appearance including weaker or more brittle hair, dry, red, itchy, thinning or irritated skin, swelling in your joints, a puffy face, or swelling at the base of your neck. It may be easy to dismiss these issues as normal skin problems, but if you’ve noticed changes in your skin’s appearance along with one or more of the other factors mentioned here, it may be time to have your thyroid checked.
Your physical appearance isn’t the only thing affected by your hormones; they also play a big role in your overall mood and mental wellness. Hyperthyroidism may cause you to feel anxious, nervous, and irritable whereas hypothyroidism can cause depression.
You’re always tired
Hyperthyroidism can make it difficult for you to fall asleep at night, thus leading to fatigue, whereas hypothyroidism’s lack of thyroxine can deplete your body from all of its energy. Additionally, with both of these conditions you’ll likely experience muscle weakness which causes your body to feel tired and worn down.
You’re always hot or always cold, but never comfortable
Hyperthyroidism may cause sensitivity to heat and excessive sweating, where a person suffering from hypothyroidism may struggle to keep warm at all. When the body’s thyroid is working properly its cells will produce 65% energy and 35% heat. However, those with a thyroid condition will either be producing too much or not enough thyroxine. This change in hormone levels will confuse the body into producing either too much heat and not enough energy or vice versa.
Weight can also affect an individual’s sensitivity to heat and cold as the more body weight you carry, the likelier you are to remain hot. Individuals with an underactive thyroid are more likely to suffer from being overweight or obese, which makes them more prone to feeling hot. In contrast, individuals with an overactive thyroid will struggle to maintain or gain weight which may cause a decline in body weight and fat, making the body more sensitive to the cold.
You’ve skipped your period, but are not pregnant
For women, thyroid issues may affect their menstrual cycle and fertility. This is especially true with hypothyroidism, as too little thyroxine can make it difficult for your body to release eggs which are needed for ovulation, impairing a woman’s overall fertility. Women with hypothyroidism may also be at a higher risk for problems during pregnancy including preeclampsia and miscarriage. Women who produce too much thyroxine may also experience the loss of their period and postpartum thyroiditis.
What Happens if You Don't Have any Signs or Symptoms
Just because you’re not showing any signs or symptoms of a thyroid disorder, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Thyroid nodules, which Dr. Cooperberg defined as being “very common masses within the thyroid gland” are not always as easy to identify as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Alejandra Borensztein, MD, a physician at Penn Endocrinology Cherry Hill, further explained, “Sometimes, patients notice or feel a bump on their neck, or sometimes their doctor detects a lump during a physical exam.” The lack of other symptoms can make it more challenging to detect. Dr. Borensztein continued, “Thyroid nodules are often found incidentally during neck imaging for other conditions and are picked up in CT scans or MRIs.”
Catching a thyroid nodule early on can help decrease your chances of developing an overactive thyroid. Additionally, it can also help you to detect and treat more serious conditions early on including thyroid cancer.
If you think you might be experiencing symptoms related to thyroid disorders or notice a change in appearance to your thyroid, consult with your primary care provider.