Your thyroid is a small gland that sits at the base of your neck. Your thyroid gland is responsible for the production and release of a number of key hormones that play a significant role in almost every cell function in the body.
If your thyroid produces too high a volume of thyroid hormones, you are said to have an overactive thyroid. This condition is known as hyperthyroidism. If your thyroid produces too low a volume of thyroid hormones, you are said to have an under-active thyroid. This is known as hypothyroidism.
Thyroid problems may be difficult to spot, mainly due to the fact that the symptoms of thyroid problems can often mimic a number of other health conditions. Read on to find out more about the early warning signs of thyroid problems, as well as some more common frequently asked questions.
What are the early warning signs of thyroid problems?
Early warning signs of thyroid problems include a change in digestive function, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, changes to heat sensitivity and mood disturbances.
Symptoms of an under-active thyroid (also known as hypothyroidism) include:
- Unexplained weight gain
- Feeling tired all of the time
- Hair loss or thinning
- Poor tolerance of the cold
- Mood changes, such as depression
- A slower pulse or heart rate
- Dry skin
- Brain fog and/or impaired memory
- Hand tingling or pain (carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Irregular period or low sex drive
- Muscle cramps
As mentioned, an under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism) occurs when the thyroid gland is not producing a sufficient level thyroid hormones, namely thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
Symptoms of an over-active thyroid (also known as hyperthyroidism) include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Feeling tired all of the time
- Poor tolerance to the heat and/or sweating
- Rapid heart rate
- Tremors (usually in the hands)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Excessive sweating or fever
- Mood changes, such as anxiety
- Irregular period
- Low sex drive
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
- Eye condition related to hyperthyroidism
An over-active thyroid (hyperthyroidism) occurs when the thyroid gland is producing too high a volume of thyroid hormones such as thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
What age do thyroid problems start?
Thyroid disorders will most likely be diagnosed between the age of 20 and 30.
Thyroid problems can affect males and females of all ages. Thyroid problems are more common in women. Women are 5-8 times more likely to be diagnosed with a thyroid condition than a male, and are most likely to be diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 30.
Currently, 20 million people in the United States are living with a thyroid disorder. Risk factors for thyroid conditions include:
- A family history of thyroid disease.
- Medical conditions including pernicious anemia, type 1 diabetes, primary adrenal insufficiency, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome and Turner syndrome.
- Taking medications that’s high in iodine (amiodarone).
- Being over the age of 60, especially in women.
- Having had treatment for a past thyroid condition or cancer (thyroidectomy or radiation).
What can mimic thyroid problems?
As the symptoms of thyroid disorders can be hard to nail down, and may be attributed to lifestyle factors, it may be difficult to diagnose a thyroid problem.
There are some health conditions that mimic thyroid problems. The only way to know for sure is to take a blood test which measures the volume of thyroid hormones that are active in your blood.
Some other health conditions that may mimic thyroid problems, according to the Atlanta Endocrine Associates include:
- Heart disease
- Sleep disorders
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Blood disorders
- Neurologic disorders
The side effects of certain medications as well as significant lifestyle changes may also play a role in symptoms that mimic thyroid disorders.
Can thyroid cause belly fat?
An under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism) may cause belly fat. The metabolism slows down if there aren’t enough thyroid hormones in the bloodstream to keep things ticking over. This means that if you are living with an under-active thyroid, you may experience weight gain, particularly around the middle.
As Medical News Today summarizes: “Thyroid hormones help to regulate body weight, food intake, and the metabolism of fat and sugar. People with low levels of thyroid hormones can experience weight gain and an increase in body mass index (BMI).”
Can stress cause thyroid problems?
Stress does not cause thyroid problems, however, if you are living with chronic stress as well as a thyroid disorder, it can make your symptoms worse.
Chronic stress can lead to a further slowdown in the metabolism which may have a number of health implications such as an increased rate of weight gain, and insulin resistance.
Your thyroid gland (which produces thyroid hormones) and adrenal glands (which produce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline) work together. If you are currently living with a thyroid disorder and you are chronically stressed, it may mean that your hormones face further imbalance which may lead to worsening symptoms, such as weight gain, fatigue, mood changes and more an increased severity of the symptoms listed above under hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
How can I check my thyroid at home?
It is possible (and quite easy) to test your thyroid hormone levels from home. Whether you have never tested or have been diagnosed and want to monitor your thyroid hormone levels. It is now easy to quickly and discretely get tested from home.
Our top pick for at home thyroid testing is LetsGetChecked who offer thyroid antibody testing. This test measures thyroxine, triiodothyronine, thyroid stimulating hormone, thyroglobulin antibodies and thyroid peroxidase antibodies. By also measuring antibodies, it is possible to find out if and/or how much damage the thyroid gland has experienced.
- Hypothyroidism: Symptoms & causes - mayoclinic.org
- Hyperthyroidism: Symptoms & causes - mayoclinic.org
- Thyroid Disease - mycleavlandclinic.org
- If it’s not my thyroid, then what is it? - atlantaendocrine.com
- Should you take a thyroid test? - stdwatch.com