- Symptoms of thyroid disorders are weight loss/gain, hair loss, or issues regulating body temp.
- Thyroid disorders can either result from an overactive or underactive thyroid.
- An estimated 60% of people with a thyroid disorder don’t know they have one.
Thyroid disorders come with a number of different symptoms including but not limited to increase/decrease in energy, weight loss/gain, and excessive hair loss.
According to the American Thyroid Association, 20 million Americans are living with thyroid disease and 60% of people with thyroid disease don’t even know they have one.
Important: Your thyroid is a gland that releases hormones, called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), and it helps regulate numerous bodily functions including metabolism, weight, body temperature, and hair and nail growth.
Therefore, when the thyroid produces too much or not enough of T3 and T4, it can cause your metabolism and temperature to not be regulated properly triggering side effects.
A lot is still unknown about exactly why certain people develop thyroid disorders and how these disorders work. Thyroid disorders are more common in women, and although there are a lot of good working theories, further research is still needed to determine exactly why, says Melanie Goldfarb, an endocrine surgeon and director of the Center for Endocrine Tumors and Disorders at Saint John’s Cancer Institute.
Here’s how to tell if your thyroid isn’t working properly, what might cause it, and when to seek a diagnosis.
Thyroid disorder symptoms
There are two main types of thyroid disorders: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Types of thyroid disorders:
An overactive thyroid, also called hyperthyroidism, is often caused by an autoimmune disorder called Grave’s disease where the body produces too much T3/T4. “You can feel your heart racing, you lose weight or can’t put on weight, hair loss. You really feel like your body is always running. Even anxiety can result from that,” says Goldfarb.
An underactive thyroid, also called hypothyroidism (often a product of Hashimoto’s disease), means the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormone. “Your body feels slowed down, you can put on weight, you can feel cold, your nails can be brittle. If you think about it, it’s like your body slowing down,” says Goldfarb.
Common symptoms of thyroid disorders:
- Difficult gaining weight or weight loss
- Large appetite or increased hunger
- Heart pounding
- Fast heartbeat despite not exercising
- Arrhythmia (issues with heartbeat), such as atrial fibrillation
- Hair loss or thinning
- Brittle nails
- Trouble sleeping
- Disruption in menstrual patterns
- Bulging eyes
- Increase in weight or inability to lose weight
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Joint swelling or joint pain
- Irregular menstruation
- Hair loss
- Feeling cold all of the time
- Slow heart rate
- Puffiness in face
Other thyroid problems:
Thyroid nodules: A growth on the thyroid that usually does not produce hormones. This is usually diagnosed via palpation and then an ultrasound. The majority are benign, but up to 10% may be cancerous.
Thyroid cancer: While this is not a thyroid “disorder,” you can develop thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer is usually spotted when there’s a growth on the thyroid that is noticeable and may appear as a bump on the neck. According to Goldfarb, most thyroid cancers are not hereditary and are sporadic. There isn’t an annual screening for thyroid cancer, but if you notice a bump on your neck that doesn’t go away, seek medical attention for diagnosis.
What causes thyroid issues?
Thyroid issues are often caused by autoimmune disorders. Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease are two common autoimmune disorders that cause the thyroid to malfunction, says Goldfarb.
There is also somewhat of a familial association with thyroid disorders. “If your parents had one or more of these autoimmune thyroid conditions, you’re more likely to have issues with your thyroid,” says Goldfarb.
Risk factors of thyroid issues can include:
- Type one diabetes which is an autoimmune disorder
- Being a woman
- Being over 60
- Too much iodine in your diet
- Not enough iodine in your diet
Important: Avoid taking iodine supplements unless prescribed by a doctor. “A lot of naturopaths like to give out a lot of iodine supplements. While we do need iodine in our diet, most people get enough from iodized salt, other foods, or multivitamins (some strict diets are an exception). Iodine can cause your body to develop hyperthyroidism if taken in excessive quantities, says Goldfarb.
How are thyroid disorders diagnosed and treated?
Hyper- and hypothyroidism are diagnosed with blood tests. A blood panel is ordered that tests the levels of your thyroid hormone as well as certain antibodies that attack your thyroid gland.
If your thyroid gland is producing too much or too little thyroid hormone, medication can be prescribed to either supplement your thyroid levels or decrease the amount of hormones in the blood. For overactive thyroids, surgery or radioiodine therapy are more permanent solutions.
Thyroid nodules are evaluated with a dedicated thyroid ultrasound, followed by a biopsy if the nodule is large and/or suspicious.
If the thyroid biopsy is suspicious or indicative of cancer, surgery is generally necessary. For large benign nodules that are symptomatic (problems swallowing or breathing), treatment is either surgery or radiofrequency ablation of the nodule.
Thyroid disorders fall into two categories: an overactive (hyper) or underactive (hypo) thyroid. An underactive thyroid is treated with medication, whereas an overactive thyroid can be treated by medication, radioiodine therapy, or surgery.
Many thyroid conditions are underdiagnosed and therefore undertreated, says Goldfarb. However, many symptoms of hyper or hypothyroidism are non-specific and overlap with many other conditions.
Therefore, it is important that a doctor actually tests your thyroid hormones if you think you may have thyroid problems.
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