Do You Have a Thyroid Disorder?

Symptoms of thyroid disease

If you just can’t pinpoint why you’re irritable, exhausted, and too hot or too cold, the culprit might be your thyroid.

A tiny butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck, the thyroid produces hormones that help control your body temperature, metabolism, and growth and development.  It  influences virtually every organ system, so when it isn’t isn’t functioning properly your overall well-being can be affected in many ways, particularly related to your weight, energy level, and mental health.

An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, and women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems, according to the American Thyroid Association.

Signs You Have A Thyroid Disorder

Up to 60 percent of those with a thyroid disease are unaware of their condition, so how can you know whether you’re suffering from one? Thyroid disorders can range from a small, harmless goiter to life-threatening cancer. The two most common thyroid conditions are known as hypothyroidism (and underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (and overactive thyroid).

“Symptoms of a dysfunctional thyroid can be very non-specific making it somewhat tricky for a person to pick up on,” says Douglas S. Ross, MD, an endocrinologist and Co-Director, Thyroid Associates at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid isn’t making enough thyroid hormone. “It’s associated with fatigue, feeling cold, mild weight gain, bloating, muscle cramps, dry skin, and constipation,” explains Dr. Ross. These are symptoms that many of us have on a regular basis so it’s harder to detect than hyperthyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism—when you make too much thyroid hormone—can cause palpitations, rapid heart rates, tremulousness, increased anxiety, increased sweating, weight loss, insomnia, fatigue, and muscle weakness.  “When mild, it might be overlooked, but when more severe patients are quite symptomatic,” according to Dr. Ross.

The most common causes of hyperthyroidism include the autoimmune disorders Grave’s disease and thyroiditis. The signs and symptoms include:

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Tremoring hands or fingers
  • Increase in perspiration or warm, moist skin
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Unexplained weight loss, despite normal eating habits
  • Enlargement of your thyroid gland (goiter)
  • Change in menstrual cycles
  • Reduced libido

How Will I Be Diagnosed?

Physicians can usually determine whether your symptoms are thyroid disorder-related after discussing them at your annual exam. The reassuring news is that you can identify abnormalities in your thyroid with a simple blood test. “Thyroid blood tests are very accurate, and assessment of hyper- or hypothyroidism is usually straightforward,” says Dr. Ross.

If further testing is needed, doctors can diagnose thyroid conditions by doing a clinical evaluation, x-rays tests, imaging, biopsies, and other tests.

If you suspect that you may have a thyroid disorder create a list of your symptoms, as well as any questions you may have, and present them to your doctor at your next visit.