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Signs You May Have a Thyroid Problem

Symptoms vary depending on the type of thyroid disorder

A woman has her neck checked for signs of thyroid disease.

Symptoms vary depending on the type of thyroid disorder

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 they have this condition. Plus, women are five to eight times more likely than men to develop thyroid problems, especially right after pregnancy and after menopause, according to the Office on Women’s Health.

What causes 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 and cause serious health issues if left untreated.


The most common thyroid disorders are hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Other less common but serious thyroid disorders include thyroid cancer.


Symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism vary, making it difficult to determine whether symptoms are related to a thyroid issue.


“What’s difficult is that all of these symptoms aren’t specific,” says Amy Chang, MD, an endocrinologist at Scripps Clinic John R. Anderson V Medical Pavilion in La Jolla. “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.”

Hypothyroidism

Symptoms of hypothyroidism develop slowly, often over several years, and include:


  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Weight gain and water retention
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • High cholesterol
  • Paleness or dry skin
  • Fatigue or sluggishness
  • Puffy face
  • Heavier menstrual periods
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Joint pain, muscular weakness, cramps, stiffness

Hyperthyroidism

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism usually being slowly but over time a faster metabolism can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

 

  • Heat intolerance, increased sweating
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Diarrhea or frequent bowel movements
  • Anxiety, nervousness
  • Rapid, irregular heart beat
  • Unusually low cholesterol
  • Flushed or clammy skin
  • Insomnia
  • Bulging eyes
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Hair loss, including outer edge of eyebrows
  • Difficulty climbing stairs, gripping objects, trembling hands

Get screened

If you are experiencing symptoms that might suggest a thyroid problem, Dr. Chang suggests you contact your primary doctor to be screened. Scripps uses blood, lab and imaging tests to diagnose thyroid disorders.


The blood test measures the levels of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), and possibly other hormones, in your blood stream. 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, patients may be referred to a specialist or to their primary care physician to treat the thyroid disorder.


Undiagnosed thyroid problems can dramatically increase the risk of heart disease, mood disorders, obesity and other health issues.


With 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.

When to see your 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. There are many treatments available for thyroid disease.