Feeling These Warning Signs? Might Be Your Thyroid
Somewhere around 20 million Americans have a thyroid disorder. Guess how many of those know their thyroid is malfunctioning? Only about 8 million. That means around 12 million people in a single country are walking around with a treatable condition, and don’t even know they have it.
Why is this a problem? Well, your thyroid may be a tiny gland, but its two hormones, T3 and T4, are responsible for the metabolism process of every single cell in your body.
That’s a big deal for each body system you have.
Fortunately, the two thyroid disorders – hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism – can be easily diagnosed and treated. The key is to know what symptoms to look for to clue you in.
Below, we are going to give you the early warning signs of each thyroid disorder as well as an exhaustive list of symptoms, so you can see if you are one of the millions with an undiagnosed thyroid condition.
What Is Hypothyroidism? And How Do You Treat It?
When your body is not producing enough T3 and T4, you have hypothyroidism.
Causes of hypothyroidism include:
- Hashimoto’s disease: This immune system disorder causes your body to produce antibodies that interfere with your thyroid’s hormone production. It is the most common cause.
- Thyroid surgery: If any or all of your thyroid has been removed, you will no longer be producing any or enough thyroid hormones.
- Radiation therapy: Those who treat their cancer near the thyroid region with radiation may end up with hypothyroidism.
- Hyperthyroid treatment: Sometimes treatment of hyperthyroidism can be over-corrective and lead to hypothyroidism permanently
- Medication: Some medications can cause hypothyroidism – including lithium
Early Warning Signs of Hypothyroidism
Because your thyroid is not making enough T3 and T4 for your body cells to properly metabolize, your body essentially becomes sluggish and begins slowing down. Typically, you might notice that you are:
- Feeling a bit more tired than you normally would
- Becoming chilled more easily
- Getting constipated more regularly
- Having issues with dry skin
- Noticing some depression
Full Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Everyone is different, so the way your body reacts to hypothyroidism can be different too. Here is a more exhaustive list of symptoms associated with hypothyroidism.
- Trouble tolerating cold temperatures
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Elevated blood cholesterol levels
- Decreased sweating
- Muscle aches, weakness, tenderness, or stiffness
- Joint pain
- Heavy, irregular, or missed periods
- Dry or thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
- Goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland)
Here’s one woman’s experience with paying attention to the warning signs of hypothyroidism:
“I had been working out and eating like a rabbit for years and I was gaining weight, not losing it. On top of that my energy levels were at an all-time low and I was constantly freezing, I had to have a heater blasting on me at work and triple up on blankets and duvets at bedtime. I was constantly exhausted and didn’t have the energy to go out at night, had to be in bed to rest early. I had super dry skin even though I guzzle water constantly. Eventually I went to my doctor and got my TSH levels checked…turns out I have hypothyroidism…Before I went in, I had a feeling it was a thyroid issue and I was the one who requested the levels get checked.”
Thyroid Warning Signs for Children
It is far more common for children to have hypothyroidism than hyperthyroidism. The warning signs of hypothyroidism in children are a bit different than those in adults. According to Stanford Children’s Health network, here are the symptoms in newborns:
- Hoarse cry
- Poor appetite
- Umbilical hernia
- Slow bone growth
And here are the signs in childhood:
- Slow growth
- Delayed tooth development
- Feeling cold
- Slow growth
- Delayed puberty
- Hoarse voice
- Slow speech
- Droopy eyelids
- Puffy and swollen face
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Slow pulse
- Weight gain (no more than 5-10 pounds)
It is not impossible, however, for little ones to get hyperthyroidism. It’s most often when a mother has Graves’ disease and passes it along temporarily to her child. In this case, the signs of hyperthyroidism are often similar in children to those in adults.
How to Diagnose a Thyroid Disorder
If you have any of these warning signs of a thyroid disorder, diagnosis should be fairly straightforward. Your doctor will go over a full medical history to see if there are any signs pointing to a thyroid problem. Then he or she will order blood tests that check your levels of T3, T4, and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone – made by the pituitary gland to kick your thyroid into gear).
Be sure to tell your doctor about every single supplement you are taking – as some vitamins can create the wrong thyroid test results.
If your blood test shows your thyroid hormones are too high or too low, your doctor may do further testing in order to figure out the cause of the improper balance. This can include:
- Thyroid scans: Measures how iodine accumulates in your thyroid gland by injecting radioactive material into your blood and scanning your thyroid under a camera.
- Radioiodine uptake test: Also measures how iodine accumulates in your thyroid gland by having you swallow a small amount of radioactive iodine. They will check you after 4 hours, 6 hours, and/or 24 hours.
- Thyroid ultrasounds: Behaves like any other ultrasound and helps doctors discover any nodules without radiation.
The Many Approaches to Treating Your Thyroid Disorder
So, you’ve been diagnosed, now what? Here are the basic steps for getting your thyroid back into shape.
The bedrock of thyroid treatment is medication. Those with hypothyroidism will take synthetic (or animal) T3 and T4 to bring their levels back up to where they should be. Those with hyperthyroidism will take antithyroid medication or radioactive iodine to lower the levels.
Be aware: it will often take a bit of time to get your dosage just right. Be patient and talk to your doctor if you are still not feeling well. Your doctor should be testing you regularly while you attempt to find the perfect balance.
Those with severe hyperthyroidism not easily treated with medication may end up needing surgery to remove some of your thyroid gland. In these cases, you will then need to get on the synthetic or animal thyroid hormones to produce enough T3 and T4 to keep your body healthy.
3. Lifestyle Changes
Leading a healthy lifestyle is imperative for those with a thyroid disorder not only because it helps your thyroid behave optimally, but also because it can help manage your symptoms. If you are already dealing with fatigue, you don’t want to be making life choices that make you even more tired.
This includes enjoying a healthy diet filled with plenty of fruits, vegetables, protein, healthy fats (like nuts), and fiber, avoiding processed foods, and getting plenty of both sleep and exercise.
You will also want to ensure you are supplementing correctly. Getting the right amount of nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc, and selenium are vital for a healthy thyroid.
A Word on Slow Symptoms and How to See Them
Before we finish, it’s important to understand how the symptoms of a thyroid disorder work. Chances are, you won’t experience any symptoms when your thyroid first starts malfunctioning. Symptoms can develop so slowly, you may not notice them for years after your thyroid begins having issues.
As the problem gets worse and worse, more and more symptoms will pop up.
This slow progression is exactly why it is a good idea to talk to your doctor as soon as you first notice some of the warning signs. It’s also not a bad idea to have your thyroid hormones checked during your regular well checks.
Then keep this in mind: all of these thyroid symptoms are similar to the symptoms of other health problems. For example, a doctor could think you have depression when you really have hypothyroidism. Yet the treatments are wildly different.
All this to say – pay attention to your body, speak openly with your doctor, and don’t be afraid to demand a blood test.
So, Do You Have a Thyroid Disorder?
Now that you know the early warning signs and full symptoms of thyroid problems, you have a greater chance of catching an undiagnosed disorder. If you feel like either set of these symptoms sound familiar, make an appointment with your doctor today to have your blood tested.