Researchers say that 10% of the general population have thyroid disorders. If you’re a woman over the age of 35, take heed- Experts estimate that 1 in 3 women over 35 develop thyroid illness at one point in their lifetime. The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck, produces thyroid hormones which regulate your body’s temperature, metabolism, and heartbeat. Things can start to go wrong when your thyroid is under- or over-active.
What causes your thyroid to go out of balance? A combination of genetics, an autoimmune attack, stress, nutritional deficiencies, pregnancy or environmental toxins could be the culprit. Here are 10 signs that point to a thyroid problem:
- Fatigue. Feeling tired all the time and having no energy are strongly associated with hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid is underactive. A common complaint in patients with hypothyroidism is that they feel exhausted even after a full night’s sleep. They just want to sleep all the time, and they feel lethargic during the day.
- Hair loss, dry hair. Dry, brittle hair that breaks easily or falls out can be a sign of hypothyroidism. Too little thyroid hormone disrupts your hair growth cycle, putting too many follicles into “resting” mode which results in hair loss or thinning (in some cases, it can also affect your eyebrows). An overactive thyroid can cause hair thinning, usually just on the head.
- Menstruation issues and fertility problems. There is a link between irregular menstrual cycles and thyroid problems. Not only that, but if you experience difficulty getting pregnant, you may want to get your thyroid checked. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can interfere with ovulation and cause infertility. Click here to learn more about how hypothyroidism affects your fertility.
- Heart flutters or palpitations. You may feel your heart fluttering or beating too hard. You may notice these strong “pulsation” feelings in your chest or in the neck area. Heart flutters or palpitations can be a sign of hyperthyroidism, when the thyroid gland is making too much thyroid hormone.
- Anxiety and “feeling wired” are also associated with hyperthyroidism. Your metabolism and whole body may spin into overdrive, and you feel like you just can’t relax.
- Weight gain or loss. People with hypothyroidism may eat very little and exercise a lot, but still gain weight. On the other hand, unexplained weight loss could indicate a thyroid problem, or something else. If you haven’t changed your caloric intake, but you are either gaining weight or losing weight, seek a doctor to get your thyroid checked.
- Your brain is fuzzy/ isn’t sharp. People with hypothyroidism may forget things and experience general brain fog, while people with hyperthyroidism find it difficult to concentrate.
- Bowel movement changes. An underactive thyroid often leads to constipation while an overactive one can cause diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements. If your bowel movements have changed, check your thyroid function.
- High cholesterol. Elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can be caused by hypothyroidism. If you have high LDL cholesterol levels that haven’t responded to diet, exercise, or medication you should get your thyroid tested. Untreated hypothyroidism can lead to heart problems such as an enlarged heart or heart failure.
- Inability to tolerate cold temperatures or sweating profusely. Feeling cold (when others are not) is associated with an underactive thyroid while feeling too warm or sweating profusely could be a sign of an overactive thyroid.
Other symptoms of thyroid imbalance include low libido, depression, high blood pressure, a lump in the throat/ neck or difficulty swallowing, dry skin, carpal tunnel syndrome or painful extremities.
If you suspect that your thyroid isn’t working properly, get your thyroid hormones tested. Autoimmune antibodies testing and a neck ultrasound may also be necessary. In 2003, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists narrowed the TSH range for acceptable thyroid function from 0.5-5.0mIU/L to 0.3-3.04mIU/L. However, in Hong Kong, Dr. Yik has found that many patients with borderline levels aren’t getting the necessary treatment. It’s important to find a doctor who listens to your symptoms and treats the whole person, not one who just looks at lab tests.