About 20 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid disease or disorder, according to the American Thyroid Association. Also, women are five to eight times more likely than men to have some kind of thyroid problem.
These statistics show that thyroid problems are very common.
There are many types of thyroid disease. The conditions that affect most people are hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).
However, up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.
This is why it is important to understand the role of the thyroid gland and how any dysfunction can affect your body.
What is the thyroid gland and what does it do?
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the middle of the lower neck, just below your larynx.
This gland produces thyroid hormones that affect the functioning of every cell, tissue and organ in your body. These hormones help regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and the rate at which food is converted into energy.
The thyroid gland needs iodine to make several hormones. The two most prominent ones are thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) produced by the pituitary gland stimulates hormone production by the thyroid gland.
Another important hormone made by the thyroid gland is calcitonin, which plays a role in calcium homeostasis.
When the thyroid gland is not working properly and produces more or less than the required hormones, it can lead to either underactive or overactive thyroid.
What do you mean by underactive and overactive thyroid?
Underactive thyroid: Also known as hypothyroidism, this condition is marked by reduced activity of the thyroid gland.
In simple terms, it means there’s a lack of sufficient thyroid hormones circulating throughout the body. This slows the metabolic activity within the body.
Overactive thyroid: Also known as hyperthyroidism, this condition is marked by abnormal increase in the activity of the thyroid gland.
In simple terms, it means an excess of thyroid hormones circulating in the blood. This speeds up the metabolic activity unusually within the body.
Hypothyroidism is much more common than hyperthyroidism. Both problems are usually diagnosed by a blood test measuring the level of T3, T4, and TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) in the body.
Symptoms of underactive thyroid
1. Unexplained weight gain
Low thyroid hormone levels contribute to a lower metabolic rate, which in turn causes excess weight gain despite decreased appetite.
2. Constant fatigue and tiredness
Fatigue and extreme tiredness is another symptom of hypothyroidism. This happens when cells do not function properly because of low thyroid hormone levels, which in turn cause less energy, fatigue and constant tiredness.
3. Menstrual and fertility problems
Menstrual as well as fertility problems are also common in women suffering from hypothyroidism.
4. Constipation and indigestion
Low levels of thyroid hormones weaken the muscles lining the digestive tract, which in turn causes indigestion or constipation.
5. Increased sensitivity to cold
As proper function of the thyroid gland is important for regulating body temperature, its poor functionality can lead to increased cold intolerance.
6. Dry and flaky skin
Low levels of thyroid hormones slow down your metabolism and even reduce sweating, which can make the skin dry and flaky.
7. Muscle soreness and pain
An underactive thyroid increases inflammation in the body, leading to muscle soreness and joint pain.
8. Hair loss
For development and maintenance of the hair follicles, proper thyroid hormones are essential. An inadequate amount of these hormones can result in slow hair growth and hair loss.
9. Poor concentration and memory
Insufficient thyroid hormones can affect your neurotransmitters, which may lead to forgetfulness, poor memory and concentration-related issues.
10. High cholesterol
Inadequate thyroid hormones affect the body’s ability to break down and clear cholesterol from the bloodstream. This leads to high cholesterol in the body.
Symptoms of overactive thyroid
1. Unexplained weight loss
Sudden weight loss despite an increased appetite is one common symptom of hyperthyroidism. The high amounts of T4, T3 or both can cause an excessively high metabolic rate, leading to increased burning of “fuel” in the body.
2. Increased sensitivity to heat
High levels of thyroid hormones in the body activate the sweat glands, which leads to increased sweating. In spite of the increased sweating, your body just cannot tolerate heat. Also, this makes your skin feel warm and moist.
3. Feeling fatigued
Initially due to the increased metabolism, your energy level remains high. However, as hyperthyroidism continues, your body tends to break down, leading to fatigue and tiredness. High levels of thyroid hormones may also cause sleep disturbance, leaving you exhausted during the day.