The thyroid gland is an integral part of the endocrine system, so any level of dysfunction can cause a range of life-altering complications. And while an estimated 20 million Americans suffer from thyroid dysfunction, the American Thyroid Association estimates that over half of these people are unaware of their condition.
Thyroid issues often appear gradually, with minor symptoms appearing first. If left untreated, these issues can cause severe and potentially life-threatening consequences. So it is vital to watch for these six signs that you should have your thyroid checked.
Your Weight Fluctuates
One of the most noticeable early signs of thyroid dysfunction is weight fluctuation. Both hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) can cause weight fluctuations.
One of the main functions of the thyroid is the production and secretion of thyroid hormones, which regulate the body’s conversion of food to energy. This process, called metabolism, regulates body fat accumulation and distribution.
When the thyroid is underactive, too little thyroid hormone is released. As a result, the metabolism slows, and the basal metabolic rate (the number of calories needed to maintain weight while sedentary) is lowered. This causes body weight to increase, often significantly, regardless of calorie intake or exercise levels.
When the thyroid is overactive, the thyroid hormone is released at an excessively high level. This elevates the metabolism, leading to an increased basal metabolic rate and weight loss.
Your Appearance is Changing
Sometimes, the first symptoms of thyroid dysfunction to be noticed are changes to the patient’s appearance, typically affecting the skin, eyes, or hair.
Skin changes are common in both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism patients since thyroid hormone directly affects the skin’s moisture level. As a result, patients with hyperthyroidism can experience excessive sweating. Whereas hypothyroidism often leads to dry skin.
Graves’ disease (the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in America) can cause vitiligo, a loss of pigment in certain body areas.
Thyroid dysfunction can also lead to eye problems. In particular, many patients are affected by a condition called thyroid eye disease. This condition, which causes the immune system to attack the eyes, is especially prevalent in patients with Graves’ disease. In more severe cases, thyroid eye disease can lead to dry or red eyes, bulging eyes, and vision loss.
Changes in the amount of thyroid hormone can also affect the patient’s hair. Inappropriate thyroid hormone levels can prevent new hair from growing, which can cause the hair to thin. Patients may sometimes develop alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss.
Your Mental State is Deteriorating
Another common sign of thyroid dysfunction is the patient’s mental health deterioration. This can occur in both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism patients.
In patients with hyperthyroidism, the excess levels of thyroid hormone produced by the thyroid can cause bodily processes to speed up. This can lead to symptoms like anxiety, often accompanied and worsened by high blood pressure and a high resting heart rate.
If the thyroid is underactive, the suboptimal thyroid hormone levels in circulation cause bodily systems to slow. This can lead to symptoms similar to those present with depression: lethargy, lack of enthusiasm and joy, loss of appetite, and difficulty concentrating.
You Can’t Get Comfortable
One way many patients notice thyroid dysfunction is through a change in how they perceive temperature. Like the other signs, this symptom is often present in underactive and overactive thyroid patients but with opposite symptoms.
With hyperthyroidism, excess thyroxine levels can cause the body to produce too much heat. As a result, patients may become extremely sensitive to warm temperatures or be uncomfortable in room-temperature settings. This is often accompanied by excess perspiration.
Hypothyroidism patients often have insufficient levels of thyroxine. This causes the body to generate less heat than normal, causing patients to become sensitive to cold temperatures.
You Have No Energy
Patients with both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism often suffer from lethargy and an overall lack of energy; however, it is more common and typically more noticeable in hypothyroidism patients.
With low thyroid hormone levels, the body fails to use food effectively as energy. This causes the patient to suffer from tiredness, weakness, and lethargy.
In patients with an overactive thyroid, excess thyroid hormone levels can overstimulate the body, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. This often results in sleep deprivation and daytime fatigue.
There are Lumps in Your Neck
Although the exact cause is not yet understood, thyroid nodules (lumps on the thyroid) are widespread. The American Thyroid Association estimates that about 50% of the population has at least one thyroid nodule by age 60. While these nodules can appear similar to cancerous tumors, about 90% of all thyroid nodules are benign.
If you or your doctor finds a lump on your thyroid, it is essential to run tests to rule out thyroid cancer. Some common diagnostic tests include a thyroid function test, thyroid scan with radioactive iodine tracer, and thyroid antibody tests. One effective way that Associated Endocrinologists tests thyroid nodules is through an ultrasound-guided thyroid fine needle aspiration biopsy.
In rare cases, thyroid nodules can produce their own thyroid hormone, causing hyperthyroidism. As a result, patients with thyroid nodules need to undergo a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level blood test.
Get a Thyroid Evaluation with Associated Endocrinologists
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is time to have your thyroid examined by an endocrinologist. If you detect your thyroid disease in the early stages, it can often be treated easily, and you can avoid many of the worst symptoms associated with thyroid dysfunction.
The thyroid specialists at Associated Endocrinologists have been treating all types of thyroid disorders since 1984. We offer the latest developments in thyroid diagnosis and treatment options, so you’ll have access to the best possible technology.
If you suspect you have a thyroid problem, call Associated Endocrinologists to schedule an initial consultation.