Understanding Autoimmune Thyroid Disease
14 Thyroid Symptoms In Women That Could Point To A Serious Problem
Your thyroid is kind of like that popular girl from your middle school: It controls basically everything around it, and when it gets pissed off, all hell breaks loose.
The thyroid is a small gland at the base of your neck that affects essentially every one of your bodily functions. So it’s really no surprise that several issues can arise when this gland suddenly doesn’t release enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) or when it releases too much (hyperthyroidism).
The most annoying part: The symptoms of thyroid disease mirror the symptoms of a lot of other issues. “Thyroid conditions can do undiagnosed for a long period of time,” says Valentina Rodriguez, M.D., an endocrinologist at NYU Langone Health. “Symptoms vary from person to person, and can come on suddenly or very gradually, so they’re hard to detect.”
Still, you need to stay on top of whatever symptoms youdoexperience because thyroid disease is way, way, more common among women. One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime, according to the American Thyroid Association, and women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems. Even more troubling: 10 to 20 percent of women in their thirties develop thyroid issues, says Eve Feinberg, M.D., assistant professor of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Leaving a thyroid condition untreated can be really taxing on your other organs, especially your heart, says Rodriguez. Plus, living with the symptoms of a whacked out thyroid really sucks. These are the thyroid symptoms in women you should be aware of:
An underactive thyroid slows down all your bodily functions, including your metabolism, says Rodriguez. “Your body is basically being told to put the brakes on everything,” she says. “And many women gain a little weight because of this.”
If you have hyperthyroidism, the opposite can happen. “Now your thyroid is laying on the gas, and a lot of functions speed up,” she says. Hyperthyroidism can lead to unexplained weight loss. “A lot of women don’t want to be treated for hyperthyroidism because they see the weight loss as a good thing, but they need to get treatment—the overproduction of the hormone is really hard on the body, especially the heart," Rodriguez says.
The thyroid hormone is in constant communication with the heart, and impacts how fast or slow it beats. With hypothyroidism, your heart rate will be slower than normal, which affects a host of other organs and body functions.
In hyperthyroidism, it’s the opposite—your heart rate speeds up too much. “Either situation can result in heart failure,” says Rodriguez. “Especially if your heart rate is revved up for a long period of time, that extra stress is dangerous.”
Another body system that slows down with hypothyroidism is the gut, Rodriguez says. You may notice that you’re not going to the bathroom as often or you’re just really constipated. With hyperthyroidism, you may go a lot and find that your poops are not super-solid.
Hypothyroidism wipes you out. “Your energy balance and control is less effective,” says Rodriguez. Maybe that means a full day at work tires you out way more than it used to, or the workouts you used to love are just too exhausting now. This feeling of fatigue can also contribute to weight gain with hypothyroidism.
In hyperthyroidism, you’re generally wound up, but this can also result in fatigue, says Rodriguez. If you’re feeling jittery, or like you had too many cups of coffee at all times, that can leave you extremely tired at the end of the day. Your body can only be on overdrive for so long before it needs a break, and hyperthyroidism doesn’t give you that balance.
Hypothyroidism can affect the way your brain functions and greatly impact your mood, says Rodriguez. Depression is a symptom many women experience, and it can be hard to recognize that the thyroid might be involved, since depression itself can lead to some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
If you have hyperthyroidism, your mood might be altered another way. “People will feel like they’re thinking a million miles a minute, they’re anxious, irritable, and tremulous,” says Rodriguez. Both disorders can leave you feeling out of control mentally and emotionally, so it can be helpful to seek mental health treatment, like talk therapy, along with medical treatment.
Is your period suddenly way heavier than normal? This could be a sign of hypothyroidism, says Rodriguez. Your thyroid also impacts your cycle, so when something’s off, you’ll often see changes from your typical period.
Hyperthyroidism can cause the opposite—you may have much lighter periods than you’re used to, or it may disappear for a few months unexpectedly.
Hypothyroidism can cause your hair and skin to be super dried out (major bummer). If you suddenly can’t get enough moisturizer, or notice your hair is brittle and breaking off, that could be a sign of hypothyroidism. Both conditions—hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism—can cause hair to thin, unfortunately.
In both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, you may feel muscles aches, joint stiffness, and weakness, says Rodriguez, further tiring you out and making you not want to be active. “Hopefully you’re in tune with your body and recognize something feels different than your baseline,” says Rodriguez. If you haven’t recently done a tough workout, you shouldn’t be feeling weak and sore.
Hypothyroidism can actually slow the synapses in your brain, and reduce the speed of your brain function, says Rodriguez. “You won’t be able to think as clearly, and you might feel like you have brain fog,” she says. This slowed-down feeling can come along with mood changes and depression, too.
Graves’ disease (an autoimmune disorder that results in hyperthyroidism) can cause some visual changes too, and one telltale sign is puffy, protruding eyes, says Rodriguez. Dry, irritated eyes can be a symptom of both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. If your eyes seem dried out (and there’s no culprit like allergies or medications), or they seem more pronounced than normal, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
Constantly cold? Your temperature sensitivity could be a sign of hypothyroidism, says Rodriguez. Your slowed circulation can leave you feeling chilled when it’s perfectly warm and everyone around you feels fine. The opposite goes for hyperthyroidism—you may be super-sensitive to any heat, and sweat a lot more than it seems like other people do.
Many women are surprised to learn that losing part of your eyebrows—specifically from the outer edge—is a sign of hypothyroidism that goes along with general hair loss, Feinberg says.
If you notice your eyebrows are getting sparse at the corners—and you're feeling generally unwell—don’t chalk it up to aging and stress, and see your doctor ASAP.
If you suddenly notice swelling and puffiness in your lower body—that means the hip, knees, ankle joints, and feet—that's a sign of fluid retention, which can be a sign of hypothyroidism or Grave’s disease, Feinberg says.
If you’ve been unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant, you’re likely already stressed out and preoccupied with that issue alone—but infertility can be a sign of other underlying problems like thyroid disease, Feinberg says.
Video: 5 Common Signs of Thyroid Problems
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