Annoyingly, the symptoms of your thyroid going awry can be diametrically different, depending on how it affects you.
In some women fatigue drags you down day after day, they get brain fog, weight gain, chills, or hair loss.
For other women they experience exactly the opposite. They feel often revved up, sweaty, or anxious.
In both cases it is the thyroid gland could be to blame.
What is it?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. It produces hormones that control the speed of your metabolism — the system that helps the body use energy.
Thyroid disorders can slow down or rev up metabolism by disrupting the production of thyroid hormones.
So when your hormone levels become too low or too high, you may experience a wide range of symptoms.
Symptom: Weight Gain or Loss
An unexplained change in weight is one of the most common signs of a thyroid disorder.
Weight gain may signal low levels of thyroid hormones, a condition called hypothyroidism and this is certainly very common in women at menopause.
In contrast, if the thyroid produces more hormones than the body needs, you may lose weight unexpectedly and this is known as hyperthyroidism.
Symptom: Swelling in the Neck
A swelling or enlargement in the neck is a visible clue that something may be wrong with the thyroid.
A goitre may occur with either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Sometimes swelling in the neck can result from thyroid cancer or nodules, lumps that grow inside the thyroid.
It can also be due to a cause unrelated to the thyroid, so always best to have it checked.
Symptom: Changes in Heart Rate
Thyroid hormones affect nearly every organ in the body and can influence how quickly the heart beats.
People with hypothyroidism may notice their heart rate is slower than usual but hyperthyroidism may cause the heart to speed up.
This can also trigger increased blood pressure and the sensation of a pounding heart, or other types of heart palpitations.
Symptom: Changes in Energy or Mood
Thyroid disorders can have a noticeable impact on your energy level and mood.
Hypothyroidism tends to make people feel tired, sluggish, and depressed where hyperthyroidism can cause anxiety, problems sleeping, restlessness, and irritability.
Symptom: Hair Loss
Hair loss is another sign that thyroid hormones may be out of balance. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause hair to fall out.
In most cases, the hair will grow back once the thyroid disorder is treated.
Symptom: Feeling Too Cold or Hot
Thyroid disorders can disrupt the ability to regulate body temperature. People with hypothyroidism may feel cold more often than usual.
Hyperthyroidism tends to have the opposite effect, causing excessive sweating and an aversion to heat.
Other Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
- Dry skin and brittle nails
- Numbness or tingling in the hands
- Abnormal menstrual periods
Other Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
- Muscle weakness or trembling hands
- Vision problems
- Irregular menstrual periods
Thyroid Disorder or Menopause?
Because thyroid disorders can cause changes in menstrual cycle and mood, the symptoms are sometimes mistaken for menopause.
Several of the symptoms associated with menopause such as weight gain, brain fog and excessive warmth maybe a thyroid problem.
A simple blood test can determine whether the true culprit is menopause or a thyroid disorder — or a combination of the two.
3 common causes
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease. This is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the thyroid gland.
The result is damage to the thyroid, preventing it from producing enough hormones. Hashimoto’s disease tends to run in families.
In some cases, hypothyroidism results from a problem with the pituitary gland, which is at the base of the brain. This gland produces thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which tells the thyroid to do its job.
If your pituitary gland does not produce enough TSH, levels of thyroid hormones will fall. Other causes of hypothyroidism include temporary inflammation of the thyroid or medications that affect thyroid function.
The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease. This is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid gland and triggers the release of high levels of thyroid hormones.
One of the hallmarks of Graves’ disease is a visible and uncomfortable swelling behind the eyes.
Hyperthyroidism can also result from thyroid nodules. These are lumps that develop inside the thyroid and sometimes begin producing thyroid hormones.
Large lumps may create a noticeable goitre and smaller lumps can be detected with ultrasound. A thyroid uptake and scan can tell if the lump is producing too much thyroid hormone.
Thyroid Disorder Complications
When left untreated, hypothyroidism can raise cholesterol levels and make you more likely to have a stroke or heart attack.
In severe cases, very low levels of thyroid hormones can trigger a loss of consciousness and life-threatening drop in body temperature.
Untreated hyperthyroidism can cause serious heart problems and brittle bones.
What can help?
If you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, your doctor will most likely prescribe thyroid hormones in the form of a pill such as Thyroxine.
This usually leads to noticeable improvements within a couple of weeks and most people with hypothyroidism will need to take thyroid hormones for the rest of their lives.
Hormone balance is also critical and supplementing with progesterone is very helpful for hypothyroidism at menopause.
Hyperthyroidism is rather different and the most common option in treating adults is radioactive iodine, which destroys the thyroid gland over the course of 6 to 18 weeks.
Once the gland is destroyed, or removed by surgery, most patients must begin taking thyroid hormones in pill form.
Another common treatment for hyperthyroidism is antithyroid medication, which aims to lower the amount of hormones produced by the thyroid. The condition may eventually go away, but many people need to remain on medication for the long term.
Progesterone is the hormone that supports thyroid function and certainly many of the symptoms linked to low progesterone levels can be helped by bioidentical progesterone supplementation.
Maintaining a healthy weight is key, and so too is knowing how to use your diet to support your thyroid.