Do You Have a Thyroid Problem? Here's How to Know
Are you tired all the time? For most of us, constant fatigue can be blamed on any number of legitimate reasons, such as a stressful job, poor sleep patterns, parenting or not eating well. However, there's a chance your chronic tiredness may be caused by your thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland is located in the front of the neck below the Adam's Apple and is responsible for a variety of bodily functions, including the creation of two vital hormones: thyroxine and triiodothyronine. Thyroxine is crucial for your brain function, digestive system, heart and much more. Triiodothyronine facilitates your bone health, metabolic rate and muscle control, among other roles.
More than 20 million Americans experience some type of thyroid disorder, and women are 5 to 8 times more likely to receive a thyroid disease diagnosis than men.
Different thyroid disorders and symptoms
There are several types of thyroid disorders, and it can be difficult to initially understand the differences among them.
Hypothyroidism is a condition that happens when your thyroid gland doesn't make sufficient thyroid hormones to keep your body functioning. Common symptoms include depression, dry skin, aches and pains, fatigue, enlarged thyroid gland, weight gain and heavy menstruation or irregular periods.
Also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, Hashimoto's disease is one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism. It's an autoimmune disorder in which your body's immune system attacks the thyroid gland, mimicking hypothyroid symptoms.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid creates too much of the hormone thyroxine, flooding your bloodstream. Common symptoms include anxiety, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, rapid or irregular heartbeat, tremors, thinning skin and unexplained weight loss.
How to identify thyroid issues
"There is a great overlap between symptoms of thyroid disease and many other diseases since thyroid hormones are essential to every organ system," said Deena Adimoolam, M.D., a specialist in endocrinology and internal medicine, and spokesperson for the Endocrine Society.
"Thyroid symptoms alone are very nonspecific," Adimoolam continued. "Depressed mood may be a symptom of hypothyroidism or depression. Anxiety may be a symptom of hyperthyroidism or panic disorder. Heart palpitations may be a symptom of hyperthyroidism or a heart condition."
Monya De, M.D., internist, journalist and functional medicine physician, further explained how thyroid malfunction can stem from other causes, such as medication side effects, or can present symptoms that can be easily mistaken for other conditions.
"People might think they are losing hair because of diet alone or constipated because of diet alone," De said. "Hyperthyroidism symptoms can sometimes even look a lot like excessive caffeine use."
The only way to know for sure if you have thyroid issues is to undergo blood tests under the watchful eye of your primary care doctor and undergo a thyroid evaluation, which usually includes examining the neck and asking questions about the patient's medical history.
Thyroid diseases tend to run in families. If someone in your family has thyroid issues, speak to your doctor, as you may be advised to get your levels checked every year to be safe.
Treatment for thyroid disorders
There are many treatment options available if you're diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, but finding the appropriate medication dose to regulate your thyroid can be difficult. It may take months from the time of diagnosis to find the perfect dosage of thyroid medications.
Most other treatment options are used as an addition to medication, not as a replacement. "Patients can get an ablation to halt overproduction of the thyroid hormone," De said. Some patients worry about lifestyle changes when taking these hormones, she added, including "waiting an hour before eating any food in the morning, no longer having dairy in the morning and getting up at the same time daily to take medication."
If you're experiencing symptoms of a thyroid disorder, reach out to your primary care provider immediately.