When your thyroid stops working as it should, you can experience a variety of symptoms that might seem unrelated or even odd. From chills and brain fog to thinning hair and weight gain, if your thyroid isn’t functioning well, you may be experiencing symptoms that are subtle and hard to characterize.
At Atlantic Endocrinology & Diabetes Center Women are more likely to experience issues with their thyroid, but anyone can suffer thyroid problems. Recognizing the symptoms of an overactive or underactive thyroid is the best way to get the treatment you need.
Possible Signs or Symptoms of a Thyroid Condition
If you’ve experienced any of the following signs or symptoms of a thyroid problem, 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 addition 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.
You feel depressed
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.
Menstrual cycle changes
Both an overactive and underactive thyroid can cause changes in your menstrual cycle. For example, if your periods become closer together, heavier, or longer, you may be dealing with an underactive thyroid that isn’t producing enough hormones. When your thyroid is producing too many hormones your period might get lighter and cycles more spaced apart.
Infertility and miscarriage
Low thyroid function can affect ovulation, causing infertility or even a miscarriage. An overactive thyroid can also cause problems for pregnant women, leading to miscarriage or other serious health problems for your baby.
Heart rate symptoms
Overactive thyroids can cause heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and an increased heart rate.
What Happens if You Don’t Have any Signs or Symptoms of a Thyroid Problem
Just because you’re not showing any signs or symptoms of a thyroid disorder, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Thyroid nodules, defined as being “very common masses within the thyroid gland” are not always as easy to identify as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Physicians say that “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. 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.
When to call a doctor
In most cases, problems with your thyroid aren’t an emergency. If you feel you have some of the symptoms above, you can simply make an appointment with your doctor to discuss testing and treatment options. However, you should call your doctor immediately if:
- You’re very drowsy, cold, and lethargic. This could be the start of a myxedema coma, which is caused by hypothyroidism that eventually leads to unconsciousness and in some cases death.
- You have a rapid pulse, accompanied by a fever, agitation, or delirium. This can indicate thyrotoxic crisis, a complication of hyperthyroidism.
It’s not always easy to know if you have a problem with your thyroid. Knowing some of the common symptoms of an underactive or overactive thyroid will help give you an idea of why you need to talk to your doctor.
Talk with your primary care provider about testing and treatment of thyroid issues. They may refer you to an endocrinologist or thyroid specialist for follow-up care.