If you have changes in heart rate, energy level, skin and hair texture, bowel movements, and mood, there is a chance you have a thyroid condition. More than one out of ten people in the U.S. experiences thyroid problems, and women are more likely to have a thyroid condition than men.
Do you think you may have a thyroid problem? Keep reading for signs and symptoms of common thyroid conditions, hyperthyroidism, and hypothyroidism, as well as more information about other thyroid problems.
WHAT IS A THYROID?
The thyroid gland is an integral part of the endocrine system. This butterfly-shaped organ regulates important hormones that influence many functions in your body. These hormones also affect how well your body performs physically and mentally. So, if you’re feeling unwell with no explanation, your body might be showing signs of a thyroid problem.
SYMPTOMS OF THYROID CONDITIONS
OVERACTIVE THYROID (HYPERTHYROIDISM) SYMPTOMS
- Nervousness and anxiousness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased heart rate and dizziness
- Increased sweating
- Heat intolerance
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss (or sometimes weight gain)
- More bowel movements
- Goiter (enlarged thyroid gland)
- Weak nails
- Thinning hair
- Sensitive skin and skin discoloration
- Difficulty Sleeping
- Lighter or irregular periods (in females)
UNDERACTIVE THYROID (HYPOTHYROIDISM) SYMPTOMS
- Sensitivity to cold
- Dry and itchy skin
- Changes in hair, nails, and skin
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- Slower heart rate
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle aches, pains, and soreness
- Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling
- Puffiness in the face
- Hoarse voice
- Heavy or irregular periods (in females)
- Brain fog and memory problems
Remember that your body is a complicated and intricate system with many performance levels. However, over time many factors can build up and disrupt the balance of your body. Specifically, your systems can become overactive or underactive to compensate for or respond to these factors. Those with a family history of thyroid disorders are especially at risk.
Other risk factors include:
- mismanaged stress
- high exposure to lithium and iodine (likely from medications)
- thyroid injury or trauma
- nutrient deficiency (especially iodine, zinc, and selenium).
- female at birth
- 60 or older
Thyroid function problems, in particular, occur when the thyroid either becomes under or overused. These conditions are called hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, respectively. Both of these conditions can cause several problems. Thankfully, thyroid conditions are treatable with both non-surgical and surgical treatments.
To explore twenty signs of thyroid problems and possible treatments, our Nashville surgeons have divided them into ten signs for hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
10 Signs of Hyperthyroidism
As we mentioned, hyperthyroidism comes from an overactive thyroid gland. When this happens, your body produces an excess of thyroid hormones, such as triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). T4 is specifically produced when the pituitary gland secretes the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Here are the signs that your thyroid is off when it has abnormally high levels of thyroid hormones.
1. Nervousness and Anxiousness
When your thyroid gland works overtime, the hormones tell the body to work in overdrive. As you’ll see, this leads to several symptoms that can make you feel nervous and anxious. But before that, these hormones lead to mood swings and hyperactive thoughts.
2. Increased Heart Rate (Plus Palpitations)
Next, as one of the physical symptoms of high hormone levels, your heart rate increases. The increase in heart activity can also lead to heart palpitations. Increased heart rate and palpitations are also symptoms of hyperthyroidism that can lead to dizziness and lightheadedness. So, if you feel your heart is off or moving too fast, you should ask your doctor about investigating your thyroid health.
3. Increased Sweating
Because the thyroid hormones tell your body to become more active, naturally, it will try to cool itself off by sweating, even in less active situations when you’re not physically exerting yourself.
4. Weight Loss
Depending on where you are in life, this may not be unwanted. But, the abundance of thyroid hormones will increase your metabolism and appetite. While you may welcome a little unexplained weight loss, unexpected weight loss can lead to dramatic and unwanted changes. On its own, however, sudden weight loss indicates other conditions.
5. More Bowel Movements
The changes in hormone levels can even influence your digestive system. More frequent bowel movements can indicate other conditions, such as Crohn’s disease; however, hyperthyroidism can even cause rapidly changing patterns.
A goiter occurs when the thyroid gland begins to swell due to the overproduction of hormones. Typically, the thyroid needs adequate levels of iodine. However, if you don’t have enough iodine, your body will try to compensate for what’s missing, and the thyroid swells. If you develop a goiter, you must take iodine supplements and possibly consider surgery.
Goiter symptoms include a tight feeling around your throat, hoarseness, coughing, and trouble swallowing.
You should also note that Hashimoto’s thyroiditis often causes goiters. This condition is an autoimmune disorder that affects millions of Americans. Specifically, this disorder causes inflammation and damage to the thyroid. As a result, the body tries to compensate by causing the thyroid gland to grow.
Hashimoto’s disease can also lead to symptoms of hypothyroidism, but more on that later.
7. Weak Nails and Thinning Hair
Your hair and nails are constantly growing. This is because a critical function of the thyroid gland is sending hormone signals to trigger hair and nail growth. With hyperthyroidism, the extra hormones tell your body to increase the growth of your hair follicles and nails in a shorter time.
While it would seem that rapid nail growth would be a positive side effect of thyroid dysfunction, that isn’t the case. This forced growth is too fast. As a result, your body has to stretch its natural resources, which can lead to thin and brittle hair and nails.
8. Sensitive Skin and Skin Discoloration
Thyroid hormones also influence the quality of your skin in various ways. For example, with hyperthyroidism, you may notice itchy and dry patches of skin.
Your face may feel softer and swollen. You may even notice swelling around your fingertips. Other symptoms include skin darkening, rashes, lumps, and reddish spots.
9. Difficulty Sleeping
You may find sleeping difficult with more hormones telling your body to be active. For instance, hormonal changes can make your nervous system hyperactive. Therefore, you may notice difficulty sleeping by no fault of your own. Also, as we’ve discussed, you may experience nervousness and anxiety due to thyroid problems, which also affect sleep.
10. Changes in Menstrual Periods (in Females)
Because hyperthyroidism tells your body to move faster, the menstrual cycle can become lighter and shorter. You may also notice the time between your periods increasing.
On their own, these symptoms may indicate other medical problems. However, when you or your doctor identify more than one of these symptoms at a time, there is a good chance it’s due to thyroid problems.
Thankfully, most thyroid disorders are treatable and are not life-threatening. However, you should call your doctor immediately if you notice a rapid heart rate and experience a fever or deliriousness. These are signs of a hyperthyroid complication called a thyrotoxic crisis.
The symptoms that show will vary from person to person. It’s important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis if you believe you have several of these symptoms. Additionally, here are more symptoms of hyperthyroidism to look out for:
- High blood pressure
- Itchy or clammy skin
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Feeling faint with sudden movement
- Skin redness or rashes
- Weak hips or shoulders
- Shaking hands
- Swelling around the eyes or protruding eyes
10 Signs of Hypothyroidism
Now that we’ve covered the signs of an overactive thyroid let’s look at what happens with an underactive thyroid gland.
First, when you develop hypothyroidism, your body produces fewer thyroid hormones, making it harder to recover from day-to-day stress. As a result, you’ll start feeling tired more often and more frequently. However, it may also be difficult to fall asleep. It also becomes more challenging for your body to get moving each day. Your thoughts become more sluggish and slow, and you may have difficulty concentrating as mental fatigue, or brain fog, sets in.
2. Sensitivity to Cold
The hormones secreted by your thyroid gland also regulate your body’s temperature. With fewer hormones, your body has more difficulty heating itself because your metabolism slows down. Therefore, you’ll feel more sensitive to the Nashville winter cold.
While hyperthyroidism speeds up your digestive process, hypothyroidism slows it down. Constipation often occurs as a result of these slowed processes. If you notice days pass without a bowel movement, you should talk to your doctor.
4. Dry and Itchy Skin
Just as the overproduction of thyroid hormones leads to skin problems, the lack of these hormones also impacts your skin’s health. The skin tends to become dry, itchy, and scaly. Your skin may even wrinkle or become pale. These symptoms can also cause other skin conditions.
5. Weight Gain
Thyroid problems cause your metabolism to slow down significantly. As a result, your body begins burning less energy and consequently stores more fat. It can even be hard to exercise because of the fatigue that comes with hypothyroidism.
6. Muscle Weakness and Slow Heart Rate
Without the stimulation from thyroid hormones, your muscles begin to lose their strength. They may even atrophy or become permanently relaxed. Our heart uses muscle tissue to function, so without stimulation, you may experience a slower heart rate, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and swelling.
7. Muscle Aches, Pains, and Soreness
Similarly, your muscles can feel sore, tired, and heavy. Also, with a lower metabolism, your body uses catabolism to create energy. Catabolism is a process that breaks down muscle and other tissue, thus leading to weakness, soreness, and pain.
8. Joint Pain, Stiffness, and Swelling
Catabolism also affects the joints, contributing to fatigue, aches, and pains from thyroid problems.
9. Heavy or Irregular Periods
In contrast to hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism causes the menstrual cycle to become slower and heavier. Cycles can also become less frequent. Hypothyroidism also causes excess prolactin, which can prevent ovulation. Too much of the hormone prolactin can make it difficult to become pregnant.
10. Depression and Brain Fog
Finally, your nervous system slows down because your body can’t use energy as efficiently. Combined with the feelings of fatigue, you can feel sluggish, experience mood swings, and see signs of depression. Over half of people with hypothyroidism experience depression. Though, patients who receive hormone replacement therapy usually report improvement in depressive symptoms.
Thyroid Problem Risk Factors
What causes thyroid problems? Several risk factors can increase your likelihood of developing thyroid problems. Though, these risk factors can vary depending on the specific thyroid condition. Here are some common risk factors associated with thyroid problems:
- Gender: Thyroid disorders, particularly autoimmune ones like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease, are more common in women than in men. Women are at greater risk, especially during pregnancy and menopause.
- Age: The risk of thyroid problems increases with age. Hypothyroidism, in particular, becomes more common as people get older.
- Family History: A family history of thyroid disorders, especially autoimmune thyroid diseases, can significantly increase the risk. There appears to be a genetic component to these conditions.
- Previous Thyroid Problems: If you’ve had thyroid problems in the past, you may be at a higher risk of developing them again or experiencing related complications.
- Radiation Exposure: Exposure to high levels of ionizing radiation, such as radiation therapy for head and neck cancer or nuclear accidents, can damage the thyroid gland and increase the risk of thyroid cancer or other thyroid disorders.
- Iodine Intake: Both inadequate and excessive iodine intake can be risk factors for thyroid problems. In regions with iodine deficiency, hypothyroidism is more common. Furthermore, restrictive diets and plant-based diets can be deficient in iodine, leading to hypothyroidism. Conversely, excessive iodine intake (iodine-induced hyperthyroidism) can cause thyroid issues.
- Certain Medications: Some medications, such as lithium, interferon, and amiodarone, can affect thyroid function and increase the risk of thyroid problems. Also, some over-the-counter weight loss supplements contain thyroid hormones, which can lead to thyroid problems.
- Pregnancy and Childbirth: Pregnancy-related hormonal changes can sometimes lead to temporary thyroid problems, such as gestational hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Additionally, women who have had postpartum thyroiditis are at a higher risk of developing permanent thyroid problems later in life.
- Autoimmune Diseases: Having other autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, can increase the risk of developing autoimmune thyroid disorders.
- Smoking: Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of thyroid eye disease in individuals with Graves’ disease.
- Obesity: Obesity has been associated with an increased risk of hypothyroidism, as excess body fat can affect the conversion of thyroid hormones in the body.
- Stress: Chronic stress may contribute to thyroid problems, particularly by disrupting the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis, which regulates thyroid function.
DIAGNOSING A THYROID PROBLEM
It’s important to note that having one or more risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop a thyroid problem. Thyroid disorders are complex and can be influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors. If you have concerns about your thyroid health or specific risk factors, please discuss them with a healthcare professional who can assess your individual situation and provide guidance on monitoring and managing thyroid health.
To diagnose a thyroid problem, your healthcare provider will conduct tests, such as:
- blood test to measure the amount of thyroid hormone present
- physical examination
- imaging tests, like a thyroid scan
How to Treat Thyroid Problems
Now that you know more about the problems that indicate thyroid problems, what should you do? Of course, the first thing you should do is ask your doctor about your symptoms. Depending on your symptoms, you may have another condition that needs treatment. However, if you are experiencing several of these symptoms at a time, you most likely have a thyroid condition, such as:
List of Thyroid Disorders
- Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormones, causing an acceleration of metabolic processes. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism and is also an autoimmune disorder.
- Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. This leads to a slowing down of the body’s metabolic processes. Common causes of hypothyroidism include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease) and iodine deficiency.
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Thyroiditis is inflammation of the thyroid gland. It can be caused by viral or bacterial infections, autoimmune conditions, or other factors.
- Graves’ Disease: Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly produces antibodies called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSIs) or thyroid-stimulating hormone receptor antibodies (TSHR antibodies). These antibodies mimic the action of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and attach to receptors on the thyroid gland, leading to excessive production of thyroid hormones.
- Goiter: A goiter is the enlargement of the thyroid gland, often caused by iodine deficiency, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, or other conditions.
- Thyroid Tumors: Thyroid tumors are lumps or growths in the thyroid gland. Most tumor nodules are noncancerous (benign), but some can be cancerous. Thyroid nodules can cause symptoms if they become large or if they produce excess hormones.
- Thyroid Cancer: Thyroid cancer is a relatively rare but often treatable form of cancer. It can develop from thyroid nodules. The most common types of thyroid cancer include papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic thyroid cancer.
- Postpartum Thyroiditis: Postpartum thyroiditis is a condition that occurs in some women in the months following childbirth. It involves inflammation of the thyroid gland and can lead to temporary thyroid dysfunction. The exact cause of postpartum thyroiditis is not well understood, but it is thought to be related to the postpartum hormonal changes and the immune system’s response to these changes in susceptible individuals.
Before you start receiving treatments, you’ll need to work with your doctor to get tested. Typically this will include blood tests to check the levels of T4 and T3 in your blood. Your doctor will help you know what to do when the tests return.
Usually, treatments include hormone replacement therapy. Additionally, your doctor may prescribe Iodine supplements to treat goiters.
However, if your symptoms are severe, it can be a sign of thyroid cancer. In this case, you must visit a thyroid surgeon to remove the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy and radiation oncology are also viable options.
In addition to medications, supplements, and other prescribed treatments, your physician may recommend lifestyle adjustments to manage symptoms further and treat the underlying cause of your thyroid condition.
Most importantly, you should manage your stress levels. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are well-known remedies for stress. They work together to regulate hormone levels and release endorphins.
However, certain foods may trigger thyroid inflammation, so keep a food diary and cut out any foods that cause a bad reaction, such as gluten, processed foods, dairy, and even some vegetables. Trigger foods vary from person to person, so be mindful of how you react to what you eat and write down what foods irritate and inflame your thyroid.
Not only should you cut out certain foods, but you should introduce foods high in vitamins and nutrients in which you may be deficient. Try iodine and selenium-rich foods like seaweed, Brazil nuts, and fish. Let your doctor know about any significant changes to your diet so they can monitor your health.
Thyroid Surgeons in Nashville & Middle TN
If you and your doctor decide that surgery is needed, visit The Surgical Clinic. We have many providers in Nashville, Smyrna, and throughout Middle Tennessee who can give you the care you need. In addition, our board-certified surgeons are highly trained individuals with many years of experience.
You can meet our surgeons, who offer thyroid and parathyroid surgery, and Dr. Taylor, who performs scarless surgery.
Call us, and schedule a consultation with a healthcare professional today. Thyroid awareness month is in January, and this event helps many Americans identify a thyroid condition they have been enduring. Our surgeons in Tennessee can screen you for thyroid problems you may suspect and if you are at risk of developing thyroid diseases.
Request an Appointment To Screen Your Thyroid
General surgeons in Greater Nashville
Dr. John Boskind
Dr. Mark Cooper
Dr. Patrick Davis
Dr. Alex Fruin
Dr. Andrew Garrett
Dr. Mark Hinson
Dr. George Lynch
Dr. Clinton Marlar
Dr. James McDowell
Dr. Willie Melvin
Dr. Chad Moss
Dr. William Polk
Dr. Drew Reynolds
St. Thomas West
Dr. Joshua Taylor
Dr. Davidson Oxley
Dr. Tyson Thomas
St. Thomas West
Dr. John Valentine
Dr. Tyler Watson
Dr. Patrick Wolf
St. Thomas West