The thyroid is a tiny gland located in the neck region, and which is tasked with the production of thyroid hormones. While this gland is relatively tiny, it plays a key role in ensuring that the body’s metabolism progresses optimally.
In fact, this small organ is considered to be the key gland as far as metabolism is concerned. There are a number of key organs which the thyroid impacts. These include the kidneys, the liver, brain, heart and the skin. For proper overall health, it is imperative that the gland functions normally.
This does not always happen as there are a number of conditions that affect the function of the thyroid gland. Some of the conditions that affect the thyroid gland include cancer of the thyroid gland, thyroiditis and nodules on the thyroid gland. Of these different conditions, two of the most common include hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Just as the name suggests, the conditions are a result of an underactive or overactive gland respectively. These two conditions have been studied extensively because they cause a wide range of emotional, physical and hormonal changes. With this in mind, what are some of the signs that you might have a thyroid problem?
Below are the top 7 signs to be on the look out for. Considering that many people suffer from thyroid disorders unknowingly, it helps to follow up on these signs. The fact that many of these signs are easily mistaken for ‘common’ changes means it is easy to misdiagnose the condition. By recognizing these signs, it is possible to seek timely medical attention.
1. Frequent Anxiety Attacks and Depression:
If for most of your life you have never had to struggle with anxiety and depression, but are suddenly feeling jittery and unsettled, there is a possibility that your thyroid gland is hyperactive, that is, producing an excessive amount of hormones.
A high concentration of thyroid hormones in the body has been known to overstimulate the brain. The result is that you get too excited to function optimally. This causes anxiety, usually over nothing in particular.
On the flip side, an underactive thyroid gland has been linked to depression. This happens because the low production of the thyroid hormones directly affects the production of serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin, commonly referred to as the ‘feel good’ hormone, is responsible for ensuring emotional stability. When its concentration is reduced, the affected person may experience mood swings which, left unchecked, easily lead to depression and panic attacks.
NOTE: The most important thing to remember is that depression and anxiety alone are not enough to make a diagnosis for thyroid problems, but are a great indicator for anyone who has a family history of thyroid conditions.
2. Menstrual Problems and Infertility in Women:
Women who suffer from conditions affecting the thyroid gland are likely to suffer from an array of menstrual problems. When the thyroid gland is not producing enough hormones, affected women will often experience heavy and long periods.
The reverse is true; when the thyroid gland produces an excess amount of hormones, the periods become lighter and very irregular. In addition to these period changes, thyroid disorders also have an impact on a woman’s reproductive health.
The reason for this is that low levels of thyroid hormones in the body affect ovulation and make a woman prone to infertility. Even if pregnancy develops, one is likely to get a miscarriage.
For this reason, women who have difficulty conceiving ought to undergo screening of the thyroid. Hormonal supplements are may be helpful too, but these should be taken under the guidance of a qualified doctor.
3. Inexplicable Fatigue:
Feeling exhausted is pretty common after a long day, but when you are consistently fatigued and exhausted with little energy to carry out the most basic of tasks, then this becomes a red flag.
The reason why this is linked to disorders of the thyroid gland is because it is tasked with overseeing the body’s metabolic processes. One of the key indicators of this fatigue is the need to nap during the day or take short breaks in the middle of normal daily chores.
While this may be normal following a change in one’s routine, say during intense workout sessions or extensive travel, the constant need to take a break is often a red flag that needs to be checked to ascertain whether or not one has a thyroid disorder.
It helps to note that in cases of an underactive thyroid, one may be able to get some sleep, but wakes up exhausted. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when one has an overactive thyroid, they may not be able to get much sleep at night, thus feeling utterly exhausted during the day.
4. Sudden Hair Loss:
Thyroid problems may also manifest with the inexplicable loss of hair. This is attributed to the low levels of thyroid hormones in the body which interrupt the growth of the hair follicles.
The disrupted hair cycle leads to hair loss. It is important to mention that this hair typically falls off from the scalp, as well as from other parts of the body such as the eyebrows and the underarm section.
In cases where the hair does not fall off, it remains dry, and coarse. For an overactive thyroid, the scalp not only becomes dry, it also leads to thinning hair. If you are worried about the amount of hair you are losing, consider getting your thyroid checked.
5. Experiencing Inexplicable Chills or Sweats:
Do you experience chills or sweats during the day, and which you cannot attribute to any specific changes in the weather? Perhaps it is time to consider the possibility of thyroid disorders.
These are a tell-tale sign for the simple reason that a change in the amount of the thyroid hormones in the body disrupts the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
As such, one experiences cold hands and feet as well as the overall sense of feeling cold – something that has often been linked to an underactive thyroid.
For an overactive thyroid, the effects are on the opposite end of the spectrum – one experiences excessive sweating even when external temperatures are low.
The body’s inability to manage heat is often indicative of hyperthyroidism, and while this is not a conclusive diagnosis for thyroid disorders, it is worth looking out for as a warning sign.
6. Neck Discomfort:
One of the warning signs of a thyroid problem is experiencing consistent discomfort in the neck region. Thyroid problems, particularly those that cause the enlargement of the thyroid gland lead to visible swelling and discomfort.
Goitre is a perfect example of such a condition. Watch out for swelling around the neck. Sometimes this is accompanied by a coarse voice, heavy snoring and protrusion in the neck.
7. Unpredictable Bowel Changes:
Thyroid disorders often cause drastic changes in the bowel function. Most people who suffer from an underactive thyroid will often experience constipation. This is because when the production of thyroid hormones is disrupted, it slows the digestive process.
When things aren’t moving in the gut as they should, then one feels constipated. This is one of the most common signs of hypothyroidism.
On the extreme end of this spectrum, hyperthyroidism, which is the over production of thyroid hormones, causes an overdrive in bowel movements, leading to diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements.
Whenever the frequency of bowel movements changes without any prior triggers, it helps to consider the possibility of thyroid disorders.
Other warning signs of a thyroid problem include dry chapped skin, muscle soreness, joint pain and brain fog. As mentioned above, the signs on their own are not a conclusive tool to diagnose thyroid disorders. It is important to undergo medical tests that will determine the condition at hand as well as provide a clearer map for the preferred method of treatment.