Signs something could be wrong with your thyroid

Doctor checking a patient's thyroid gland

Sometimes putting on an extra 5 to 10 pounds isn’t because of what you’ve been eating or how often you exercise.

Unexpected weight gain, especially if it’s accompanied by fatigue or brain fog or other symptoms, could signal a problem with your thyroid gland. Getting to the gym more often might not have the same effect it normally would, and you may be too tired or weak for that extra workout.

If you suddenly have more trouble sleeping, anxiety or a pounding heart, those signs, too, could indicate that your thyroid is off.

Your thyroid, a gland shaped like a butterfly, is located at the bottom of the neck just below the Adam’s apple. The gland is responsible for producing hormones that regulate various organs in the body, as well as metabolism. When the thyroid produces too much or too few hormones, that leads to problems.

There are three most frequent thyroid diseases:

Hypothyroidism

It is the most common thyroid disease. It happens when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, causing your metabolism to slow down.

Symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • slow or sluggish thinking
  • muscle weakness or achiness
  • shortness of breath
  • constipation
  • dry, brittle hair
  • dry skin
  • depressed mood
  • stunted growth (in children and teens)

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body makes antibodies that attack the thyroid gland and prevent it from producing enough thyroid hormone.

Hyperthyroidism

It happens when your thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone, causing your metabolism to go into overdrive.

Symptoms include:

  • unintended weight loss
  • jitteriness
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • heart palpitations (feeling like the heart is pounding or skipping beats)
  • trouble falling asleep and staying asleep
  • frequent bowel movements
  • mood shifts
  • increased sweating

The most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the United States is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that can cause your thyroid gland to overproduce. The disease can also be associated with an appearance of bulging eyes.

Goiter and thyroid nodules

They occur when the entire thyroid gland is enlarged (goiter) or individual lumps form within the thyroid. Thyroid hormone levels are often normal in these situations.

Symptoms may include:

  • swelling at the base of the neck
  • trouble swallowing
  • new hoarseness of voice

If goiter causes the thyroid to produce a higher or lower amount of thyroid hormone, you may also experience symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

Diagnosing thyroid problems

Thyroid diseases are diagnosed by testing the level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood. The pituitary gland secrets TSH, which in turn triggers the thyroid to secrete hormones.

The pituitary gland acts like a thermostat. If it senses there’s too much thyroid hormone in the bloodstream, it will back off on the amount of TSH it sends to the thyroid. And if the pituitary gland senses there’s not enough thyroid hormone in the bloodstream, it will produce more TSH. So, the level of TSH in the blood is a good indicator of many problems in how the thyroid gland is operating.

If you have any symptoms of a thyroid disease, see your primary care provider, who can examine your thyroid and order a TSH test.

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