Thyroid problems are a lot more common than you might think: in fact, an estimated 12% of Americans will develop some kind of thyroid disorder in their lifetime. Unfortunately, a lot of these people will remain undiagnosed—up to 60% of people with a thyroid disorder are unaware of their condition. That may be in part due to the fact that thyroid disorder symptoms can look like a lot of other health issues, or could even be mistaken for physical manifestations of stress.
So how do you know if you should see your doctor and get tested for a thyroid disorder? Here are 11 possible symptoms to look for.
Signs of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism occurs when the body produces too little of the thyroid hormone. The thyroid hormone is what regulates the body’s metabolism, and a thyroid hormone deficiency can lead to a range of symptoms, including:
Increased fatigue. You may have trouble staying awake during the day, and you may feel tired even after getting a full night’s sleep.
Unexplained weight gain. Your base metabolism slows down when your body produces less of the thyroid hormone, which may lead to a weight gain or difficulty losing weight, even with regular exercise and a low-calorie diet.
Dry skin. A slower metabolism can also cause your skin to become dry and itchy.
Increased sensitivity to cold. As metabolism slows, body temperature goes down, which can cause you to feel cold even in a warm environment.
Hair thinning. A decrease in thyroid hormone production disrupts the hair’s growth cycle, which can cause brittle or thinning hair.
New or worsening depression. Research has shown a link between the thyroid hormone and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is believed to maintain mood balance. If you have an underactive thyroid, you may have a drop in serotonin and could experience depression as a result.
Signs of Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces an excessive amount of the thyroid hormone. While hypothyroidism slows the body’s metabolism, hyperthyroidism speeds it up, which may lead to some of the following symptoms:
‘Wired’ feeling. Hyperthyroidism makes the sympathetic nervous system more active, which can cause you to feel anxious, jittery, or irritable.
Difficulty sleeping. A more active nervous system may also cause you to have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep through the night.
Increased appetite. A faster metabolism can mean that you feel hungry frequently, even when you’re eating normal meals and snacks.
Unexplained weight loss. Even if you are eating more than normal, you may experience weight loss with an overactive thyroid gland.
Heart palpitations. An increase in thyroid hormone stimulates the heart to beat more rapidly or irregularly.
On their own, the symptoms described above are not necessarily an indication of hypo- or hyperthyroidism. However, if you have several of these symptoms or any other signs of a faster or slower metabolism, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your healthcare provider should be able to run a blood test to measure your thyroid levels, and he or she may refer you to an endocrinologist if your thyroid levels indicate that you need treatment. For more information about thyroid disorders and their treatments, visit our Thyroid Conditions Page.