WHEN SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT...

Is Your Thyroid Trying to Tell You Something?

Feb. 11, 2020

Are you gaining or losing weight without explanation? Do you seem to be more sensitive to cold or hot weather? Are you having digestive problems or trouble sleeping?

According to Dr. Shivani Toma, endocrinologist at Houston Methodist, these symptoms, as well as others, may indicate a problem with your thyroid — the small gland located in the lower front of the neck, just above your collarbone.

"The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate our metabolism, which includes bodily processes, such as body temperature, heartbeat, digestion and more," Dr. Toma says. "It can affect so many systems in our bodies, including development and growth in children, energy, mood and cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems. It also helps regulate women's menstrual cycles and can affect ovulation and fertility."

And, the American Thyroid Association reports that more than 12% of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition.

What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid isn't making enough thyroid hormone to keep your body running normally. It is frequently misdiagnosed because the symptoms are nonspecific and easily mistaken for other health problems.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, approximately five out of 100 Americans, ages 12 and older, have hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism often is inherited, and it occurs more often in people older than 60, particularly women.

Common symptoms include:

  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Cold intolerance
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Dry, puffy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Weight gain

 

If hypothyroidism is suspected, your doctor will run a blood test to measure the levels of your thyroid hormones.

"Treatment of hypothyroidism is lifelong and involves taking a daily thyroid hormone to restore adequate hormone levels," Dr. Toma explains. "Levels are checked periodically, and doses adjusted based on levels and symptoms."

If left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to poor mental and physical health and cause high cholesterol levels that can result in heart disease, according to the Hormone Health Network.

What is hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid is overactive and produces too many hormones. Common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Heat intolerance
  • Heart palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss

 

Dr. Toma says hyperthyroidism can also cause significant fatigue and brittle hair and nails, similar to hypothyroidism. If your symptoms point to hyperthyroidism, your doctor will confirm the diagnosis with a blood test.

"Hyperthyroidism can be treated with radioactive iodine therapy to shrink the thyroid and reduce hormone levels," Dr.Toma says. "Alternatively, we can prescribe drugs to block hormone production, or we can remove a part of the thyroid surgically."

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