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Could your symptoms be caused by thyroid disease?
Maybe you’ve been feeling more tired than usual even though you’re getting plenty of sleep. Or you’ve put on or lost weight even though your eating and exercise habits haven’t changed. Or you’re more sensitive to heat or cold. These hard-to-pin-down symptoms can be caused by thyroid disease, a condition that affects approximately 20 million people in the U.S., 60% of whom aren’t aware they have the condition.
One reason so many people remain undiagnosed is that many of the symptoms of thyroid disease are also symptoms of other common conditions, such as depression and anxiety, diabetes, and heart disease. Difficulty getting a definitive diagnosis of thyroid disease increases the risk of misdiagnosis. For men, getting correctly diagnosed may be complicated by the fact that the condition is far more common in women than men, which may mean that thyroid disease may not be on your primary care provider’s radar if you’re a man.
There are several types of thyroid disease, including hypothyroidism (the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormone), hyperthyroidism (it produces too much hormone), thyroid nodules (benign growths on the gland), thyroid cancer, goiter (benign enlargement of the thyroid), and autoimmune conditions that affect the thyroid such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease.
Common symptoms of thyroid disease
Depending on what type of thyroid disease you’re living with you could experience a range of symptoms:
- Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism): Anxiety, irritability, insomnia, unintended weight loss, enlargement of the thyroid gland, muscle weakness and/or tremors, heat sensitivity, vision problems, sweating, rapid heartbeat and/or palpitations, increased appetite, and, for women, irregular or absent menstrual periods
- Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism): Fatigue, weight gain without eating more than usual, forgetfulness or brain fog, dry, coarse hair, voice hoarseness, sensitivity to cold
- Thyroid cancer: Lump in the thyroid gland, hoarseness, problems swallowing, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, neck and throat pain
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: Constipation, problems concentrating, dry skin, enlarged thyroid, fatigue, hair loss, brittle nails, muscle weakness and aches, joint pain, irregular or heavy periods in women, depression, puffy face
- Graves’ disease: Rapid heartbeat, anxiety, unintended weight loss, increased appetite, diarrhea, heat sensitivity and increased sweating, insomnia, enlarged thyroid, hair loss, muscle weakness, irregular menstrual periods in women, eye problems including gritty, itchy eyes, pressure or pain in the eyes, bulging eyes, double vision, puffy eyes, and light sensitivity
In men, symptoms can include a sudden increase in hair loss, reduced sex drive, breast enlargement, loss of muscle mass, erectile dysfunction, premature or delayed ejaculation, infertility, and atrophy of the testicles, and in older men, hip and spine fractures.
If you are currently being treated for thyroid disease, working with your healthcare provider to manage your medication and check your thyroid function is important. Over time, the amount of medication you need can change, requiring a different dosage or different medication.
Signs that your medication is too low or high will mirror the symptoms of hypo- and hyperthyroidism. To ensure your medication works as well as possible, make sure to follow the instructions on how to take it (with or without food, time of day, and making sure not skip doses) and check to make sure the medication does not interact with other medications you’re taking.
A health advisor or health navigator can be a good resource to help you connect with physicians experienced in treating thyroid disease and can also provide evidence-based information about your condition and treatment options.