Just about everyone suffers from fatigue, muscle pain and weight fluxuations at some point in their lifetime, especially as they age. However, these seemingly inconspicuous symptoms could actually be a sign of something more serious: a thyroid issue. It’s estimated that 20 million Americans have some sort of thyroid condition, and up to 60 percent of sufferers have yet to be diagnosed by a doctor. Producing too many (hyperthyroidism) or too few (hypothyroidism) thyroid hormones will cause a detrimental hormone imbalance within the body. Understanding how to tell if you have a thyroid issue will provide you with key symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.
What Does Your Thyroid Do?
Understanding how to tell if you have a thyroid issue starts with understanding the role your thyroid plays in your overall health. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck that stores and produces hormones throughout the body. The thyroid primarily controls one’s metabolism, but also plays a hand in several other vital functions such as:
- Heart rate
- Menstrual cycles
- Cholesterol levels
- Weight maintenance
- Muscle function
The thyroid produces – Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3), however the liver and kidneys convert T4 in T3. 80% of T3 comes from the conversion of T4 outside of the thyroid and 20% comes directly from the thyroid. T3 is the most active thyroid hormone. Both T3 and T4 work in conjunction with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain to maintain balance. When the thyroid produces too little T3 and/or T4 (hypothyroidism), the hypothalamus signals the pituitary to respond by releasing thyroid stimulating hormones (TSH) to try to increase hormone production. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when the thyroid produces too much T3 and/or T4 (hyperthyroidism), the hypothalamus tells the pituitary to make less TSH to try to slow hormone production.
While the hypothalamus and pituitary gland work tirelessly to try to maintain the proper levels of T3 and T4 in the body, sometimes the thyroid requires additional treatment in order to stay balanced.
Symptoms to Look Out For
Understanding how to tell if you have a thyroid issue comes from first understanding what is normal for your body. If you’ve noticed any combination of the following symptoms developing over the past several months to years, it’s worth consulting with your doctor about the possibility of a thyroid condition.
You’re Always Tired
Ongoing fatigue after a full night’s sleep is one of the most common symptoms associated with hypothyroidism. The hormones pumped through your thyroid to the rest of the body act as a signal for every cell, muscle and organ to activate. Lacking the proper amount of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream means your body will struggle to “wake up” with you in the morning. This can make every day feel like a struggle to stay awake without a midday nap. If you sleep through the night and routinely feel exhausted, an underactive thyroid could be the culprit.
You Feel Anxious
Similar to how hypothyroidism can make someone feel drained of energy, hyperthyroidism sufferers often feel as though they have too much energy. Producing an overabundance of thyroid hormones signals each system in the body to work in overtime, causing an increased heartbeat and overall feeling of restlessness. Constantly operating on “all systems go” can make the sufferer feel anxious, jittery and unable to relax.
You Suffer From Menstrual Irregularity
Menstrual changes in women over the age of 40 are often associated with peri menopause or menopause. However, it could actually be a sign of disruption in your thyroid. When thyroid hormones have depleted (as they would for those with hypothyroidism), female sufferers might experience longer, heavier menses that are closer together. On the other hand, women with hyperthyroidism who are producing an overabundance of thyroid hormones might experience shorter, lighter irregular periods. Thyroid related menstrual changes can occur at any age and be a cause for infertility. When it comes to menstrual changes, it’s best to confirm with a doctor that it is not being caused by problems in your thyroid.
You’re Losing or Gaining Weight
If you’ve experienced a sudden and unexpected tipping of the scale, it could be a sign that your thyroid is in distress. Your thyroid gland is the control center of your metabolism. Therefore, the thyroid hormones that are (or aren’t) being transferred throughout the body will directly impact weight maintenance. If you’ve experienced a rapid weight loss without changing your diet and exercise habits, your body could be over producing thyroid hormones. Conversely, if you’re gaining weight or are unable to lose weight no matter how often you work out, it could be a sign of an underactive thyroid.
You’re Experiencing Mental Fog
Everyone experiences the phenomenon known as “mental fog” once in a while. But if a hazy feeling has become your new normal, your thyroid might be over or under active. Cognitive function is intricately tied to hormone production. When too few thyroid hormones are being transmitted from cell to cell (hypothyroidism), one might suffer from forgetfulness or feeling “fuzzy”. Over producing thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism), on the other hand, might make it difficult to focus on daily tasks such as working and driving.
Your Muscles Hurt
Sore muscles are not only a sign of age, they’re a sign of an underactive thyroid gland. Over time, under producing thyroid hormones can lead to nerve damage from the brain to the spinal cord all the way to the extremities. This can result in long standing or come and go twitching, tingling and aching in muscles throughout the body.
Understanding How to Tell if You Have a Thyroid Issue
Now that you know how to tell if you have a thyroid issue, the next step is making an appointment with your doctor to confirm it. Many of these symptoms can be linked to external factors – such as your age, lifestyle and health history – and should first be discussed with a professional. If further assessments are needed after your initial consultation, your doctor will recommend a blood test called a thyroid function test in order to determine whether your thyroid hormones are running low, high, or right on target.
If you suspect your thyroid might not be functioning at its optimal level, it’s time to consult with a functional medicine doctor. Dr. Lorraine Maita is a recognized and award-winning holistic, functional, and anti-aging physician and author. She transforms people’s lives by getting to the root cause of illness using the best of science and nature. Her approach is personalized, precision medicine where you are treated as the unique individual you are. If you’re ready to start your journey to a healthier, happier life, schedule your visit today!