The thyroid gland is a small gland located at the front of the throat. It produces thyroid hormones, known as T3 and T4. These hormones affect energy use and metabolism throughout the whole body.
Low levels of thyroid hormones are known as hypothyroidism. Because thyroid hormones affect the whole body, hypothyroidism can have a variety of different effects. What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism? How can you know whether you have this problem?
A complete list of hypothyroid symptoms would be very long, but there are certain symptoms that are common in people with low thyroid hormone levels, including:
The early signs of hypothyroidism often include fatigue and weight gain, and these are often attributed to aging. However, as hypothyroidism progresses and the patient develops advanced hypothyroidism in adulthood, more obvious symptoms will become apparent.
Besides the general symptoms of hypothyroidism, women may also suffer from irregular periods, or periods that are heavier than normal.
Hypothyroidism in pregnancy can also have serious consequences. For example, it can affect the development of the baby’s brain, which leads to lifelong effects. Screening for thyroid disorders is a standard part of prenatal care, so pregnant women should ensure that they keep all their prenatal appointments, to avoid the dangers of hypothyroidism in pregnancy.
Men can also have male-specific symptoms of hypothyroidism. Erectile dysfunction is a common symptom of low thyroid hormone levels in men. The hair loss caused by hypothyroidism differs from male pattern baldness that’s caused by aging. Hypothyroidism leads to diffuse hair loss across the whole scalp, rather than a receding hairline in front or a bald spot at the crown of the head. However, men can certainly have both at the same time.
The most common causes of low thyroid are:
Although anyone can potentially develop hypothyroidism, some people are at an increased risk. People with a higher risk of developing hypothyroidism include:
Although symptoms may strongly suggest hypothyroidism, the only way to know for sure whether you have this condition is to get a blood test. You can go to your doctor to get the test ordered, and then go to a laboratory to have blood drawn for the test. Another option is to get a home test kit that uses a blood sample obtained through a small fingerprick.
If your thyroid hormone levels are low, then you will need to talk with a doctor about treatment options. If you went to your own doctor to get the test ordered, then you’ll go back to their office to discuss the results. For those who use home test kits, there is often an option to have a telemedicine appointment with a licensed healthcare provider in order to address any abnormal results.
Studies have found a link between taking birth control pills and the risk of hypothyroidism. Women who’ve been taking these pills for longer are at a higher risk for thyroid issues. The estrogen in birth control pills increases the amount of thyroid binding proteins in your bloodstream. This means that more of your thyroid hormones are bound to the binding proteins, leaving less available to act on the cells in your body.
If you’re taking birth control pills and you also have hypothyroidism, it might be worth discussing this issue with your doctor. You might want to try using a different method of contraception to see if that makes a difference in your thyroid condition.
It’s possible for cancer to lead to hypothyroidism, in a few different ways. The treatment for thyroid cancer often involves removing part or all of the thyroid gland, and this can cause hypothyroid after surgery. Surgery for other types of head and neck cancers may also involve removing part or all of the thyroid.
In addition, cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also affect the thyroid and interfere with its function, leading to hypothyroidism. There are often a variety of different cancer treatment side effects; hypothyroidism is one possible explanation for symptoms that cancer patients may be feeling after their treatment.
Hypothyroidism itself doesn’t directly cause psoriasis; however, there is an association between psoriasis and thyroid problems. This is believed to be because different autoimmune disorders (diseases that are caused by the immune system attacking the body’s own tissues) tend to occur together. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder, and the most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, which is also an autoimmune disorder. Because of this, people with psoriasis are more likely to also have hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism can also cause dry skin, which may make flare-ups more likely in people with skin conditions like psoriasis.
Constipation is a common symptom of hypothyroidism. In most cases, treating the hypothyroidism by taking thyroid hormones will help. Lifestyle changes, like eating enough fiber, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough exercise can also be helpful for many patients.
Depression is also a common symptom of hypothyroidism. In general, however, depression will not be the only symptom of a thyroid condition. Most of the time, people with low thyroid who have depression will also have other symptoms of their condition.
Chen D, Yan Y, et al. The association between subclinical hypothyroidism and erectile dysfunction. Pak J Med Sci May-Jun 2018;34(3):621-625. doi: 10.12669/pjms.343.14330
Eapi S, Chowdury R, et al. Etiological Association Between Psoriasis and Thyroid Diseases. Cureus 2021 Jan;13(1):e12653. doi: 10.7759/cureus.12653
Qiu Y, Hu Y, et al. Birth control pills and risk of hypothyroidism: a cross-sectional study of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2007-2012. BMJ Open 2021 Jun 23;11(6):e046607. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-046607.
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothyroidism/symptoms-causes/syc-20350284. Accessed 17 May 2022.
Hypothyroidism. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12120-hypothyroidism. Accessed 17 May 2022.