The thyroid gland is one that not many people pay particular attention to. The brain, lungs, heart, liver and other vital organs generally demand more concern. However, the thyroid gland is one that is enormously important to our health.
The gland is no longer than 2 inches and is located in the front of the throat, slightly below the Adam’s apple. It consists of two sides (lobes) that lie on both sides of the windpipe, connected by a strip of tissue called the isthmus. The thyroid produces two primary hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). When either hormone levels are too high or too low, adverse health conditions can surface.
So, what does the thyroid do exactly? Well, a number of different things. The butterfly-shaped thyroid gland plays important roles in breathing, body weight, muscle strength, central and peripheral nervous systems, body temperature, cholesterol levels, heart rate, menstrual cycles, and others.
Since the symptoms of a thyroid disorder can be inconspicuous, it is sometimes necessary to check its hormonal levels through tests available at most health clinics. That said, there are certain signs that can indicate a thyroid disorder.
Here are 10 signs you have a thyroid disorder:
Fatigue is a symptom that generally encompasses feelings of tiredness and exhaustion. Hypothyroidism – low levels of thyroid hormones in the blood – may be a potential cause of fatigue. Consistent feelings of tiredness are often diagnosed as symptoms of chronic fatigue, which may also be a symptom of a thyroid disorder. In other cases, fatigue as a symptom may be quite subtle in nature.
2. Weight gain
A sudden, unexplainable gain in weight can be a telltale sign of a thyroid condition. Generally, weight gain is the byproduct of low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism). Conversely, elevated levels of thyroid hormone, called hyperthyroidism, may cause unanticipated periods of weight loss. Of the two disorders, hypothyroidism is far more common.
3. Irregular heart rate
As mentioned, thyroid hormones affect a number of vital organs. When thyroid hormone levels are too low, this may cause the heart to beat too slow. When hormonal levels are elevated, heart rate may become uncharacteristically fast. As a result, one’s blood pressure levels often become erratic. Sometimes, alterations in heart rate create noticeable sensations, such as a pounding heart or heart palpitations.
4. Swelling of the neck
Contrary to most signs of a thyroid disorder, swelling of the neck is often a very noticeable symptom. This is one particular sign that demands immediate attention, as it may be the result of thyroid cancer or nodules, small lumps that grow within the thyroid. Of course, other conditions exist that may be responsible for swelling of the neck.
Surprisingly, depression may be one sign of a thyroid disorder. The reason is that hypothyroidism can impact levels of the brain’s “feel good” chemical, serotonin. Also, low levels of thyroid hormone can trigger other areas of the body to decrease activity, which may have an indirect impact on overall mood.
6. Anxiety or jitteriness
This is one sign that may be due to hyperthyroidism – when the thyroid gland is producing an excessive level of hormones. When this occurs, our metabolism and other parts of the body may become hyperactive, creating feelings of anxiety or general “jitteriness”.
7. Brain fog
When thyroid functionality diminishes, cognitive ability often does as well. Hyperthyroidism often makes it difficult to concentrate, while hypothyroidism may create lapses in memory and decreased awareness. Notably, some women have attributed such signs to menopause, when the root cause was actually a thyroid condition.
8. Decreased sex drive
This sign can be a standalone or a cumulative symptom. Low libido can be the direct result of hypothyroidism, but other signs – low energy, body aches, weight gain – caused by hypothyroidism may also be to blame.
9. Dry skin
In addition to swelling of the neck, dry skin may be another noticeable sign of a thyroid disorder. Hypothyroidism often slows metabolism, which can initiate changes in both skin texture and appearance. Further, an inactive metabolism often reduces sweating which limits the amount of skin moisture, causing flakiness or dryness. Also, nails may become brittle as well.
10. Irregular digestion
Those with hypothyroidism often complain of constipation, a likely result of decreased digestive activity from lowered hormonal production. On the flip side, hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid may result in bouts of diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements.