What type of thyroid disorders are there?
The main types of thyroid problems are:
- Hyperthyroidism — this is when your thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone. The most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism are weight loss, agitation and nervousness, heat intolerance, heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat and becoming tired doing ordinary activities.
- Hypothyroidism — this is when your thyroid does not make enough thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism can go on for years without showing any signs. When symptoms do appear, they can be quite varied and can include fatigue, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin, weight gain, thinning hair, poor memory and depression.
- Thyroid cancer — this is when some of your thyroid cells become cancerous. Thyroid cancer is more common in women than in men and is usually diagnosed in people’s fifties. It can usually be treated successfully.
Hypothyroidism (UNDERactive Thyroid)
Hypothyroidism can cause a host of health problems. Fortunately, an underactive thyroid can be easily diagnosed and treated.
Midlife can bring subtle changes in our skin, hair, energy, weight, and even mental outlook. Before writing them off as products of aging, it’s a good idea to make sure they’re not the result of an underactive thyroid.
Low thyroid hormone production, or hypothyroidism, causes a range of symptoms, such as fatigue, constipation, dry skin and brittle nails, aches and pains, and feeling down. You might easily attribute hypothyroidism symptoms to other health problems.
Moreover, hypothyroidism is especially common in women. Between ages 35 and 65, about 13% of women will have an underactive thyroid, and the proportion rises to 20% among those over 65. Because the link between hypothyroidism symptoms and thyroid disease isn’t always obvious, especially in older people, many women won’t know they have an underactive thyroid — and won’t be treated for it.
Untreated hypothyroidism can increase your risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for hypothyroidism symptoms and have your thyroid function checked. Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed with a blood test and treated with a pill.
Hypothyroid symptoms can differ from person to person. In some women, the onset is so gradual that it’s hardly noticeable; in others, hypothyroidism symptoms come on abruptly over the course of a few weeks or months. An underactive thyroid is mild in some women and severe in others. In general, the lower thyroid hormone levels are, the more pronounced and severe the symptoms.
Characteristic signs of hypothyroidism include:
- Fatigue. Low thyroid function can result in less energy.
- Cold intolerance. Slowed-down cells burn less energy, so the body produces less heat. You may feel chilly even when others around you are comfortable.
- Appetite loss, weight gain. With lower energy needs, you require fewer calories, so your appetite declines. Yet, you may gain a few pounds because your body converts fewer calories into energy, leaving more to be stored as fat.
- Cardiovascular effects. Low levels of thyroid hormone can lead to high blood pressure and elevated levels of total and LDL cholesterol. The heart’s pumping ability may slow, reducing blood flow to the skin, kidneys, brain, and other vital tissues, and increasing the risk of heart failure, especially in older women.
- Mental effects. Hypothyroidism and depression share many of the same symptoms, including difficulty in concentrating, memory problems, and loss of interest in things that are normally important to you. They call for different treatments, so proper diagnosis is important.
- Other signs and symptoms. Slowed metabolism reduces sweating, the skin’s natural moisturizer, so the skin may become dry and flaky and nails brittle. Hair may thin or become coarse. Digestive processes slow, causing constipation. Speech and movement may also slow down. In younger women, periods may become heavier and more frequent, or they may stop; infertility is sometimes a problem. Muscle aches and pain around the joints, including carpal tunnel syndrome, are common. Older women may have balance problems.
If you have any low thyroid symptoms, see your clinician for a physical exam. You’ll be checked for signs of hypothyroidism, such as an enlarged thyroid gland, dry skin, hair loss, weight gain, and elevated cholesterol levels. Your clinician may test your blood for levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) — the single best screening test for thyroid disease — as well as the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4).
Hyperthyroidism (OVERactive Thyroid)
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) occurs when your thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. Hyperthyroidism can accelerate your body’s metabolism, causing unintentional weight loss and a rapid or irregular heartbeat.
Several treatments are available for hyperthyroidism. Doctors use anti-thyroid medications and radioactive iodine to slow the production of thyroid hormones. Sometimes, hyperthyroidism treatment involves surgery to remove all or part of your thyroid gland.
Although hyperthyroidism can be serious if you ignore it, most people respond well once hyperthyroidism is diagnosed and treated.
Hyperthyroidism can mimic other health problems, which can make it difficult for your doctor to diagnose. It can also cause a wide variety of signs and symptoms, including:
- Unintentional weight loss, even when your appetite and food intake stay the same or increase
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) — commonly more than 100 beats a minute
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Pounding of your heart (palpitations)
- Increased appetite
- Nervousness, anxiety and irritability
- Tremor — usually a fine trembling in your hands and fingers
- Changes in menstrual patterns
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Changes in bowel patterns, especially more frequent bowel movements
- An enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), which may appear as a swelling at the base of your neck
- Fatigue, muscle weakness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Skin thinning
- Fine, brittle hair
Older adults are more likely to have either no signs or symptoms or subtle ones, such as an increased heart rate, heat intolerance and a tendency to become tired during ordinary activities.
The Bottom Line
If you experience any of symptoms detailed on this page, SEE YOUR DOCTOR. It’s important to completely describe the changes you’ve observed, because many signs and symptoms of a thyroid disorder may be associated with a number of other conditions.