Have you recently found yourself gaining or losing weight without changing your diet or exercise routine? Are you more fatigued than normal, or do you feel amped up and anxious? You could be experiencing stress or the natural effects of aging. But if these changes are accompanied by other symptoms, you could have thyroid problems.
Around 30 million Americans have some sort of thyroid disorder, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE). But because the symptoms are often mistaken for other health issues, about half of those with thyroid problems don’t even know it.
Thyroid disorders are usually easy to treat but can lead to serious health problems if they go undiagnosed. Here’s what causes thyroid problems and when you should see a doctor.
Your Thyroid: The Basics
The thyroid is an endocrine gland located at the front of the neck, just above the Adam’s apple. Endocrine glands produce hormones that regulate bodily functions like metabolism, temperature and heart rate, according to Live Science. The thyroid produces the hormone called thyroxine. Thyroid problems fall into two categories:
- Hyperthyroidism: an overactive thyroid, which produces too much thyroxine
- Hypothyroidism: an underactive thyroid, which doesn’t produce enough thyroxine
Experts still aren’t entirely sure what causes these problems, but they seem to be triggered by certain conditions including genetics, autoimmune disorders such as Graves’ disease, pregnancy, stress and aging. Anyone can develop a thyroid disorder, but women are at a greater risk. They’re five times more likely than men to suffer from hypothyroidism, according to the AACE.
Thyroid Problems: Signs to Be Aware Of
How do you know if your thyroid isn’t working properly? Here’s what to look out for.
- Rapid, irregular heartbeat
- Sudden and unexplained weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Nervousness, anxiety and irritability
- Trembling hands and fingers
- Changes in menstrual or bowel patterns
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Swelling at the base of your neck
- Fatigue and muscle weakness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Skin thinning
- Fine, brittle hair
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated cholesterol level
- Pain, tenderness and stiffness in the muscles or joints
- Heavy or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
When to See a Doctor
Left untreated, thyroid disorders can lead to heart problems, mental health issues, joint pain, infertility and even death. So it’s important to seek medical attention if you suspect a problem. Thyroid conditions tend to develop over several years, so you might not notice the signs at first.
But if you are experiencing multiple symptoms, talk to your doctor about whether you should be tested. Your doctor can easily and quickly assess your thyroid through a simple blood test.
Keep in mind that hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism often mimic other health conditions, which makes them hard to diagnose. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the symptoms you’re experiencing. The more information you provide, the easier it will be to spot the problem.
Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.