The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located at front of our neck below the Adam’s apple, is a small but very important gland that releases hormones that have a huge impact on metabolism, among other processes. According to the American Thyroid Association, about 20 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid malfunction, yet 60 percent don’t realize that they even have a problem. This makes realizing that the thyroid is malfunctioning really important.
Located above the Adam’s apple, your thyroid produces thyroid hormone (TH), which regulates, among other things, your body’s temperature, metabolism, and heartbeat. Things can start to go wrong when your thyroid is under- or over-active. If it’s sluggish, it produces too little TH; amped-up and it produces too much. What causes your thyroid to go haywire? It could be genetics, an autoimmune attack, pregnancy, stress, nutritional deficiencies, or toxins in the environment, but experts aren’t entirely sure. Because of thyroid hormones far reach in the body—from brain to bowels—diagnosing a disorder can be challenging. Here’s how to tell if your thyroid could be on the blink.
Feeling tired and having no energy are issues associated with lots of conditions, but they’re strongly linked with hypothyroidism, the disorder that’s the result of too little thyroid hormone. If you’re still tired in the morning or all day after a full night’s sleep, that’s a clue that your thyroid may be underactive. Too little thyroid hormone coursing through your bloodstream and cells means your muscles aren’t getting that get-going signal. “Fatigue is the number one symptom I see,” says Dr. Miller. “It’s the kind of fatigue where you’re still tired in the morning after a full night’s sleep—that’s a clue that you’re not simply sleep deprived; your thyroid may be underactive.”
Feeling unusually cold/unusual sweating
The thyroid gland is like a thermostat for our body in the sense that it regulates body temperature. If the hormone production gets beefed up it unusually increases the body’s metabolism causing people to feel overly warm and sweaty. If there is a deficiency of the thyroid hormone in the body the patient might be prone to having low body temperatures and cold intolerance.
Unusual weight gain/loss
Thyroid hormones are responsible for regulating the body’s metabolism. Lower than normal production of the hormone can significantly decrease metabolism and calorie burning abilities of the body causing you to gain weight, while over secretion of it will make you lose weight abruptly.
You’re feeling down
Feeling unusually depressed or sad can also be a symptom of hypothyroidism. Why? It’s thought that the production of too little thyroid hormone can have an impact on levels of “feel good” serotonin in the brain. With an underactive thyroid turning other body systems down to “low,” it’s not surprising that your mood might sink there, too.
Your appetite or taste buds are altered
An increased appetite can be a sign of hyperthyroidism when too much thyroid hormone may have you feeling hungry all of the time. The only upside is that the “hyper” part of the disorder typically offsets the caloric impact of an increased appetite so the end result isn’t weight gain.
An underactive thyroid, on the other hand, can mess with your sense of taste and smell.
You’ve lost your interest in sex
Having little or no desire in the sack could be a side effect of a thyroid disorder. Too little thyroid hormone could be a contributor to a low libido, but the cumulative impact of other hypothyroidism symptoms—weight gain, low energy, and body aches and pains—could also play a part.
Your periods have changed
Longer menstrual periods with a heavier flow and more cramps can be a sign of hypothyroidism, where thyroid hormones are in short supply. Periods may be closer together.
With hyperthyroidism, high levels of TH cause menstrual irregularities in a different way. Periods are shorter, farther apart and may be very light. “I always ask my patients about their cycles and if they’re regular,” says Miller. She finds a strong link between irregular cycles and thyroid problems. And if periods are extra-heavy, she checks for anemia, too.
You have painful extremities or muscles
Sometimes you stub a toe or work out too hard—that kind of pain can be explained away. But if you have mysterious or sudden tingling or numbness—or actual pain—in your arms, legs, feet, or hands, that could be a sign of hypothyroidism. Over time, producing too little thyroid hormone can damage the nerves that send signals from your brain and spinal cord throughout your body. The result is those “unexplained” tingles and twinges.
You have high blood pressure
Elevated blood pressure can be a symptom of a thyroid disorder. Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism have been fingered as culprits. By some estimates, people with hypothyroidism have two to three times the risk of developing hypertension. One theory is that low amounts of thyroid hormone can slow heart beat, which can affect pumping strength and blood vessel wall flexibility. Both may cause a rise in blood pressure.
Your sleep schedule is messed up
Want to sleep all of the time? It could be hypothyroidism. A sluggish thyroid can slow bodily functions down to the point where sleeping (even in the daytime) seems like a brilliant idea.
Can’t sleep? It could be hyperthyroidism. An overactive thyroid can cause anxiety and rapid pulse, which can make it hard to fall asleep or even wake you in the middle of the night.