A look at subtle symptoms that often go undiagnosed
Have you been feeling tired or depressed lately? Have you gained weight? Easily get the chills? Or perhaps you feel the opposite: Anxious, clammy or even losing weight unintentionally, despite an increased appetite?
These symptoms may be related to stress or the time of year. They could also be caused by your thyroid gland.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease and up to 60 percent of them are unaware of their thyroid condition. Plus, women are five to eight times more likely than men to develop thyroid problems.
The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck below the voice box, produces hormones that regulate metabolism—the powerhouse that helps your body convert or use energy.
When a thyroid disorder is present, it can disrupt the production of thyroid hormones by under-producing (a condition known as hypothyroidism) or overproducing (a condition known as hyperthyroidism) thyroid hormones. This can trigger a variety of symptoms, including:
|Hypothyroidism or “Underactive Thyroid”||Hyperthyroidism or “Overactive Thyroid”|
|Sensitivity to cold||Heat intolerance, increased sweating|
|Weight gain and water retention||Unintentional weight loss|
|Constipation||Diarrhea or frequent bowel movements|
|Depression||Anxiety, nervousness; Rapid, irregular heart beat|
|High cholesterol||Unusually low cholesterol|
|Paleness or dry skin||Flushed or clammy skin|
|Fatigue or sluggishness||Insomnia|
|Puffy face||Bulging eyes (exophthalmos)|
|Heavier menstrual periods||Irregular menstrual periods|
|Brittle hair and nails||Hair loss, including outer edge of eyebrows|
|Joint pain, muscular weakness, cramps, stiffness||Difficulty climbing stairs, gripping objects, trembling hands|
“What’s difficult is that all of these symptoms aren’t specific,” says Amy Chang, MD, endocrinologist at Scripps Clinic. “There are other conditions that can cause similar issues, so it can be difficult to parse out what’s being caused by a thyroid condition or something else.”
If you are experiencing a compilation of symptoms that might suggest a thyroid problem, Dr. Chang suggests you contact your primary doctor to be screened for a thyroid disorder. Screening involves a simple blood test to measure the levels of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), and possibly other hormones, in your blood stream.
While the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) publishes normal TSH ranges that can be helpful for determining a thyroid disorder, Dr. Chang says each patient’s TSH level and symptoms should be evaluated and treated in an individualized way.
When blood tests present abnormal results, Dr. Chang says patients may be referred to a specialist or to their primary care physician to treat the thyroid disorder. As for patients who have a “normal” TSH reading, she says they may need medication or an adjustment in their medication to lessen or prevent symptoms to help them feel better.
Undiagnosed thyroid problems can dramatically increase your risk of heart disease, mood disorders, obesity and other health issues. In hypothyroidism, chronic low energy can lead to getting less exercise, feeling weak, tired or depressed. Neural side effects can cause trouble focusing or remembering things. With hyperthyroidism, heart and bone problems can result.
See a doctor
If you have experienced symptoms that you suspect may be related to your thyroid gland, make an appointment with your doctor to be evaluated. If you need a new physician, call 1-800-SCRIPPS (1-800-727-4777) to get a referral to a Scripps affiliated provider. Even if hormones aren’t the root cause of the symptoms, your body may be trying to tell you something. Listening is the first step toward feeling better.
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