If someone isn't feeling quite right and has had no luck finding out why, the thyroid gland could be the culprit. Low thyroid, or hypothyroidism, is extremely common. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a condition where the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough important hormones. These hormones play a major role within our bodies, every single day, regulating our metabolism, temperature and heart rate.
Hypothyroidism can significantly disrupt the normal balance of chemical reactions and processes in our bodies. Symptoms of this condition can take a long time to appear, which causes millions of people to go untreated without even knowing they have an issue with their thyroid. Untreated hypothyroidism can cause a number of health problems, such as heart disease, chronic fatigue, weight gain or obesity, joint pain and infertility.
Luckily, thyroid function tests are easily available to help diagnose hypothyroidism, and treatment of hypothyroidism with synthetic thyroid hormones can be very effective... once you and your doctor diagnose the thyroid issue and then find the right hormone medication and dose.
The thing is, while about 20 million people in the United States have some kind of thyroid disease, it is estimated that 60% of them don't even realize they do. Not only that, but women are 5-8 times more likely than men to develop issues with their thyroid gland; that means 1 in 8 women will battle thyroid disease at some point in their lives. That's staggering. Here are a few clues that it might be time to be tested:
If someone is getting their normal amount of sleep each night and is still dragging during the day, it could be a sign that their thyroid function isn't normal. Hypothyroidism can slow a person down, making them feel sluggish, one might even have trouble keeping their eyes open.
For some people, unexplained joint or muscle pain or stiffness can surface with hypothyroidism, as well as muscle aches and weakness, especially in the hips and shoulders. A low thyroid condition can cause aching all over that doesn't seem to get better with rest. The hormones that the thyroid gland secretes and regulates have a function in almost every cell in the body. When the thyroid isn't making enough of those hormones, it can literally hurt.
People with hypothyroidism can feel cold quite often, especially their fingers and toes; this is because the thyroid gland is considered to be our body's thermostat, helping to regulate internal body temperature. When the thyroid doesn't produce enough hormones the body's thermostat malfunctions.
Much like feeling cold, sometimes a person with a low thyroid condition can experience the other extreme and sweat profusely, at very odd times, even when they don't feel hot. And without any advanced warning, they could go from sweaty to freezing and clammy in a heartbeat. This is all due to the hormone levels being abnormal.
While it can be hard to talk about, a slow-down in digestion when combined with some of these other symptoms can also be a sign that the thyroid is underperforming. Since our metabolism is partially regulated by our thyroid hormones, sluggish and uncomfortable digestion could cause constipation in those with hypothyroidism; and ongoing constipation can certainly lead to further health issues.
While most people with low thyroid find unexplained weight gain (or weight they have had trouble losing despite diet and exercise) to be a problem, unexplained weight changes in either direction can be a red flag for thyroid disease. This is especially concerning when eating and exercise habits haven't changed at all but weight fluctuations are occurring.
A thyroid condition often causes dry and brittle hair, even hair loss, and sometimes the eyebrows will thin out as well. Often, the hair doesn't grow back. Many people notice this symptom while showering when they see more of their hair heading toward the drain.
Depression and Anxiety
One of the issues that many people face with getting a diagnosis for thyroid problems is that they first get a mental health diagnosis for their symptoms. While many of the other symptoms that go along with hypothyroidism can also be chalked up to physical symptoms of anxiety and depression, sometimes it is all caused by one fussy gland in the neck. Don't put the horse before the cart. Treating the underlying thyroid condition --- when present --- can lift the anxiety and depression that it can cause.
Each symptom above will not occur in every single person with hypothyroidism, but if one is experiencing several of the symptoms mentioned above, it may be time to do something about it. If the body isn't producing the proper amount of thyroid hormones it can negatively affect a lot of body functions and processes. It is important to note that many thyroid symptoms are common to other health issues as well, which is why millions of people have a thyroid condition and don't even know it -- it's easy to attribute the symptoms to some other cause -- so being tested in order to be certain is usually the best course of action. If someone gets their thyroid function tested and the results are normal, then their doctor may want to take things in another direction and dig deeper.
When getting thyroid function tested always ask for a copy of the lab results because it's best to become familiar with the actual numbers and levels of hormone production. It's best not to just accept a doctor's conclusion that the lab results were normal and then be done with the conversation; better to literally see the numbers. Furthermore, some medical labs have different normal ranges so it's best to know what the levels are.