Almost all of us struggle with a little fatigue now and then, a few weight fluctuations, or the occasional blue mood. After all, we’re busy, it’s hard to get in all the yoga we dream of doing, and hey, life happens.
But if you find yourself struggling with symptoms like these on a regular basis, or with some severity, your thyroid may be the culprit.
Incredibly, of the estimated 25 million Americans living with thyroid disease today, as many as 50% don't realize they have it — and most are women.
Here, I’ll take you through what you need to know about the thyroid gland, and how to spot the signs of a problem.
What Is The Thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front center of your neck, about midway between the under part of your chin and that dip at the base of your neck in front.
The thyroid serves as the body’s thermostat, regulating energy, temperature and metabolism. Through a series of chemical reactions that rely on minerals like iodine and selenium, it controls everything from your mood to your menstrual cycles — not to mention about a thousand other functions, including how efficiently you burn calories and how easily you lose weight.
3 Types Of Thyroid Problems
- Hypothyroidism, or under-functioning of the thyroid gland. This means that energy and metabolism are low.
- Hyperthyroidism, or over-functioning of the thyroid gland. In this case, your metabolism is running on overdrive.
- Autoimmune thyroid diseases. This includes both Hashimoto’s disease, where the thyroid is underactive, and Graves disease, where it's overactive.
Autoimmune thyroid diseases are the most common, accounting for 90% of all hypothyroidism in the US, most of which is Hashimoto’s.
10 Signs Of A Thyroid Problem
These symptoms suggest that your thyroid might be either under-functioning or over-functioning:
1. Weight struggles
If you’ve tried diet after diet and exercise after exercise without success, it’s probably not that you’re “just not doing it right.” Instead, it might be because you're not able to burn off calories because of a low functioning thyroid. This is a great time to stop beating yourself up and pinpoint whether your thyroid might instead be to blame.
On the other hand, if you’re losing weight like crazy this can be a sign of hyperthyroidism, and merits a visit to your doctor for blood work.
2. Energy issues
The thyroid dictates how much energy you have. When it's running low, so are you. You might be anywhere from a little more tired than usual, to excruciatingly fatigued. While this can be related to other problems like anemia or viral infections, low energy is one of the most common symptoms of a poorly functioning thyroid.
On the other hand, when the thyroid is overactive, you feel anything from slightly agitated, to bouncing off of the walls. If any of these are new symptoms, consider having thyroid testing done.
3. Sleep problems
You’re probably catching on to a pattern here: the thyroid can also affect your sleep. When your thyroid function is low, you might feel like sleeping way more than usual. You may also wake up feeling unrested, or like you’ve had a poor, dream-disrupted sleep.
If, however, you feel like you're an electric cord plugged into a live socket, this can be a sign of adrenal overdrive, or a hyperactive thyroid.
4. Mood swings
Feeling blue for no reason? Hypothyroidism can be making you feel depressed and down.
But if you’re feeling irritable, angry, and worked up more than usual, this might be a sign that your thyroid is hyperactive. Think of it as your body getting fired up and overheated, thanks to the overproduction of hormones in your thyroid.
5. High or low appetite
A low functioning thyroid can tank your appetite. That's because your dialed-down metabolism tells your brain you don’t need as much fuel to burn. Interestingly, low thyroid function can also make you crave sugar and carbs for energy, in order to overcome your fatigue.
On the other hand, when the thyroid is hyperactive, it can make you feel insatiably ravenous — like you could eat and eat and never get full. That’s because your overactive thyroid is using up tons of fuel, even when you’re resting. Your appetite gets ramped up in order to regain the calories constantly being burned.
6. Slow or fast digestion
With hypothyroidism, things are going to slow down — and that includes your digestion. As a result, constipation is a common symptom of low thyroid function, along with gas and bloating.
The opposite is true with hyperthyroidism: you may need to go to the bathroom super often, and loose stools become common.
7. Irregular periods, heavy periods, fertility problems, or miscarriage
The thyroid controls the regularity of menstrual cycles, as well as fertility and women’s hormones in general.
If you’ve been having trouble getting pregnant, have hormonal issues or irregular periods, think you aren’t ovulating, or have had a miscarriage, get your thyroid function checked before you get pregnant to make sure your levels are optimal.
I’ve worked with many women who, after getting proper thyroid treatment, became pregnant or never had another miscarriage.
8. Joint pain
A little known fact is that chronic joint pain, especially carpal tunnel syndrome and overall aching, can be due to a low functioning thyroid.
So before you start popping ibuprofen and other medications that can wreck the health of your gut, have a quick check of your thyroid labs, especially your TSH, FreeT3 and FreeT4, and thyroid autoantibodies. Your primary doctor will be able to order these for you.
9. High cholesterol, even with a healthy diet
Hypothyroidism can also lead to high cholesterol, since your slower metabolism isn’t burning up fat. So before you go on a statin drug to control your cholesterol, get your thyroid levels checked. The solution might be in finding the root cause: a thyroid problem.
10. Too hot, or too cold
Because your thyroid is your body’s thermostat, you might often feel chilled or have chronically chilled hands if it's under-functioning.
But if it’s over-functioning, you might feel overheated in a normal temperature room, and pleasantly comfy when everyone else is freezing. Whether you’re too hot or too cold — get your thyroid checked out!
The good news is that if identified, thyroid problems can be repaired.
In more conventional medical practices, you may have to advocate for yourself to get the testing you need. But a functional medicine, integrative medicine, or naturopathic doctor will usually be willing to run the whole gamut of thyroid tests, including TSH, FreeT3, FreeT4, Reverse T3, and thyroid autoantibodies.
Of course, it's important to be careful not to get over-diagnosed and unnecessarily treated if you don’t actually have a thyroid problem. However, if the symptoms and the labs fit, then appropriate treatment can make you feel like a million bucks.
Sometimes thyroid function can be recovered and restored with natural methods like stress reduction, diet, herbs, and supplements. Other times, medications are needed long-term.
But either way, it's important to identify whether you have a thyroid problem in the first place — so you can get the help you need to feel like yourself again.
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