Symptoms of thyroid problems and disorders
If you're experiencing symptoms of thyroid problems, it's important to have them checked out by your provider, as thyroid problems can negatively affect many areas of your life.
The thyroid gland is located in the throat, near the trachea. It's shaped like a butterfly and uses iodine to make the thyroid hormone, a combination of T3 and T4 hormones that regulates metabolism and other functions in the body. If left untreated, thyroid problems can affect your breathing, digestion, fertility, heart rate, moods, and weight.
There are several types of thyroid disorders, but the two most common ones are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Both relate to how much thyroid hormone the thyroid produces.
Hypothyroidism is the result of an underactive thyroid, which means the thyroid isn't making enough hormone for the body's needs. A low thyroid hormone level can cause many body functions to slow down. Hypothyroidism can make you feel extremely tired and may also cause mental health issues such as depression.
Other symptoms of hypothyroidism may include:
- Decreased sweating
- Difficulty tolerating cold
- Dry skin
- Dry, thinning hair
- Fertility issues in women
- Goiter, which is a term to describe an enlarged thyroid that can cause swelling in the neck
- Heavy or irregular menstrual periods
- Joint and muscle pain
- Puffy face
- Reduced heart rate
- Weight gain
Hypothyroidism can also cause changes to your skin and hands, such as deep lines and a yellow-orange color on your palms. It can also cause your nails to become thick, dry, and brittle.
Risk factors for hypothyroidism
You're at higher risk for hypothyroidism if you're older than age 60, have a family history of thyroid disease, were pregnant or had a baby in the past six months, have had a thyroid problem before, have had surgery to correct a thyroid problem, or have received radiation treatment to the thyroid, neck, or chest. Women are also more likely to develop hypothyroidism than men.
Certain disorders can also increase the risk of developing hypothyroidism, including:
- Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage many parts of the body
- Pernicious anemia, a condition in which the body lacks vitamin B12, making it difficult to produce enough healthy red blood cells
- Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that attacks the glands that make tears and saliva, causing dry eyes and mouth
- Turner syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects growth and reproductive health in females
- Type 1 diabetes, a disease in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin
- Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that impacts the joints
Hyperthyroidism is the result of an overactive thyroid, which makes more thyroid hormone than the body needs. This can cause many body functions to speed up.
The symptoms of an overactive thyroid include:
- Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
- Heat intolerance
- Mood swings
- Muscle weakness
- Nervousness or irritability
- Rapid and irregular heartbeat
- Tremors, usually in the hands
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
Risk factors for hyperthyroidism
Like hypothyroidism, several factors can put you at risk for developing hyperthyroidism, including:
- Consuming too much iodine, which is found in some cough syrups and other medicines, as well as seaweed and seaweed-based supplements. Consuming too much iodine can prompt the thyroid to make more hormone than the body requires.
- Grave's disease, an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system attacks your thyroid and causes it to make too much hormone
- Primary adrenal insufficiency, when the adrenal glands don't make enough hormones, including cortisol
- Taking too much thyroid medicine (when prescribed for hypothyroidism) can lead to an overactive thyroid.
- Thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid that causes stored hormone to leak out of the gland
- Thyroid nodules, growths on the thyroid that are usually benign (not cancerous) and can make too much thyroid hormone
You're also at higher risk for hyperthyroidism if you're older than age 60, have a family history of thyroid disease, were pregnant or had a baby in the past six months, have had a thyroid problem before, or have had surgery to correct a thyroid problem. Women are more likely to develop hyperthyroidism than men.
Like hypothyroidism, pernicious anemia and Type 1 diabetes are also risk factors for hyperthyroidism.
Diagnosing thyroid disorders
To diagnose a thyroid disorder, your healthcare provider will consider your signs, symptoms and family history. Thyroid testing may include a blood test to check the levels of your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and your T3 and T4 hormone levels.
Your provider may also suggest certain imaging tests, such as a radioactive iodine uptake test or an ultrasound. In a radioactive uptake test, you will receive a small amount of radioactive material by swallowing a pill. Your thyroid will then be scanned to see how much iodine your thyroid absorbs.
Treatment options for thyroid disease
Thyroid disorders are treatable. Options include:
- Medications to control your thyroid levels
- Radioiodine therapy to slowly destroy cells of the thyroid gland
- Surgery to remove some or all of the thyroid gland
If you need to have your thyroid levels checked, Reid Health is right beside you. Request an appointment at the Reid Endocrinology Center.