The thyroid gland produces triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormones that regulate metabolism. The thyroid hormones are vital to every cell in the body but may not always work as they should. If you suspect your thyroid isn't functioning correctly, you may ask, what are early warning signs of thyroid problems? Firstly, to understand the signs and how they affect you, let's clarify what a thyroid is and its location in the body. (1)
What is a Thyroid?
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located just below the larynx at the bottom part of the neck. It's part of the endocrine system and is vital for many of the essential functions in the body, such as producing and releasing various hormones. The thyroid gland controls your metabolic rate, which is how your body uses energy. When the thyroid isn't working as it should, health issues occur, making it difficult to function. (2)
10 Signs of Possible Thyroid Problems
Your thyroid makes hormones that keep your body functioning optimally. You'll notice symptoms when it makes too much or too little. When the thyroid produces too much, it's called hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid. When you have a thyroid deficiency, it's called hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. Either way, you'll most likely see signs that can include: (3), (4)
1. Feeling overly tired
When you feel like you're constantly exhausted, even after a seemingly good night's rest, have trouble getting up in the morning, or stay awake during the day, it could be a sign of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
2. Heart palpitation
Firstly, a fast heart rate signals that it's working too hard and can cause your blood pressure to rise. Secondly, this can be an early sign of hyperthyroidism.
3. Weight changes
Gaining or losing weight without changing your eating and fitness routines could suggest a thyroid issue. Gaining weight is related to hypothyroidism, meaning your thyroid hormones are low. Losing weight is when your body makes too much thyroid, called hyperthyroidism. The thyroid controls metabolism, so if you produce too much thyroid hormone, it can speed metabolism up - too little, and it can slow it down.
4. Mood and energy levels
It could be a sign of hypothyroidism if you feel down and tired for no good reason. Living with restlessness, anxiety, stress, and inability to calm down could be hyperthyroidism, leading to fatigue and feeling wiped out.
5. Feeling too cold or too hot
The thyroid is a vital regulator of body temperature. When you feel either too hot or too cold, it's a sign your circulation isn't working correctly and can be related to thyroid issues.
6. Neck swelling
Visible neck swelling (goiter) can be a sign of thyroid or other health issues and should be checked out. A goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland, commonly caused by an imbalance in thyroid hormones, often due to iodine deficiency, leading to various types of goiters. These include endemic goiters resulting from inadequate dietary iodine, sporadic goiters linked to autoimmune diseases or genetics, multinodular goiters with multiple nodules, and solitary thyroid nodules. Usually, treatment varies based on severity and cause, from iodine supplementation to medications like Levothyroxine or surgery.
7. Hair loss
While some hair loss is normal, if you find your hair noticeably thinning or see areas of balding, it can be related to hyperthyroidism.
8. Brittle nails
It's common with thyroid disorders for nails to become weak and brittle. They can be soft, rigid, and bend easily.
9. Digestive problems
Hypothyroidism can cause stomach discomfort and digestive issues due to an imbalance in the bacteria in the digestive system, resulting in gastrointestinal issues.
10. Skin issues
Both dry and oily skin can be due to the thyroid not working correctly. Oily skin can result from hyperthyroidism, and dry skin occurs when you have hypothyroidism.
And One EXTRA! Low Thyroid Can Cause Low Testosterone
Hypothyroidism can decrease free testosterone levels in the blood. Furthermore, an association exists between hypothyroidism and reduced levels of sex hormone-binding globulin, a protein responsible for transporting testosterone around the body. These combined factors can lead to symptoms associated with low testosterone levels in men. Many signs of low thyroid are similar to those with low T, including low libido (in both men and women), tiredness, weight gain and loss of muscle mass.
Having Your Thyroid Tested
Thyroid tests, along with a thorough symptoms evaluation, can help your medical provider determine whether your thyroid is working. If you have symptoms of a thyroid issue, you'll want to get tested. Tests help determine various thyroid conditions such as:
- Hashimoto's disease
- Grave's disease
- Thyroid cancer
Thyroid tests check the hormones that control various systems in the body. They are simple and pain-free. However, tests are not as accurate as symptoms in many cases, so make sure your medical provider knows what they are looking for.
Types of Thyroid Tests
- TSH test. According to the American Thyroid Association (5), measuring TSH levels with a blood test is the most reliable way to check thyroid function. However, TSH tests are unreliable because they only measure the signal sent by the pituitary gland to the thyroid to produce hormones (T3 and T4). They don't directly measure the actual levels of these hormones in the body.
- T4 test. T4 (thyroxine) is a thyroid hormone in the blood. Too much or too little can determine thyroid problems. Two types of T4 include free T4 and bound T4, which bind to specific proteins to prevent them from entering the tissue. However, T4 is a pretty inactive hormone and doesn't have many benefits till it converts into T3.
- T3 test. An elevated T3 test can point to the diagnosis and severity of hypothyroidism even with a normal T4 test. Low T4 can be a sign of hypothyroidism.
- Thyroid antibody test. This test can help identify thyroid disorders such as Hashimoto's and Grave's disease. Hashimoto's disease is a common form of hypothyroidism, and Grave's disease is a common form of hyperthyroidism. Both are due to the immune system attacking the thyroid gland. (6)
Getting a Thyroid Test at Home
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Treatment for Thyroid Issues
Treatment is focused on getting your thyroid levels back to normal, which can be done in several ways, depending on the type of thyroid disease you have. Options can include: (7)
- Medication. When you have hyperthyroidism caused by high levels of thyroid hormones, your medicine will be focused on stopping the thyroid from making hormones. With hypothyroidism, the medication is a synthetic, for example, Levothyroxine which increases hormones in your body. Alternative medications like desiccated thyroid are often the preferred choice for patients. Desiccated thyroid is a natural product that contains T3 and T4, so if your body has conversion issues and cannot change T4 into (active) T3, this may solve the problem.
- Surgery. When you have hyperthyroidism, surgery can be done to remove your thyroid, making it necessary to take a synthetic form of thyroid hormone that you'll have to take for your lifetime.
- Beta-blockers. It's possible that medications like beta-blockers can manage stress hormones in the body.
- Radioactive iodine. It is a treatment that actually damages thyroid cells to prevent them from making hormones.
Living With Thyroid Disease
No matter what type of thyroid disease you have, you'll have to manage it throughout your lifetime. While treatment is often a daily medication, your healthcare professional may need to adjust the dose, which can take some time. Besides taking medication and checking levels routinely, thyroid disease shouldn't interfere with everyday life.
Thyroid disease is generally due to the overproduction or underproduction of the thyroid hormone. It can be diagnosed through symptoms followed by testing to see if levels are too high or too low. There are various types of thyroid disease, each requiring some kind of management, such as medication or surgery.
Thyroid disease is usually treatable and easily maintained throughout life. Thyroid and TRT combined for men can often have twice the benefit due to how closely they are related. If you feel affected by any of the symptoms above, it could be an idea to get tested and see if hormone therapy could help.
Symptoms of low thyroid and low T?
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