Fifteen million Americans have been diagnosed with thyroid disease, and it’s estimated an equal number are undiagnosed. Thyroid diseases, in which the thyroid gland produces either too little or too much of its hormone, are more common than diabetes or heart disease, and occur more frequently in women than in men. These conditions generally run in families.
The thyroid produces a hormone—simply called thyroid hormone—which is used in almost every cell to run the metabolic process and help generate energy. The hormone comes in two varieties, thyroxine and triiodothyronine. Both types direct and regulate metabolism.
When the wrong amount of thyroid hormone is produced, it leads to problems. Too much causes an enlargement called a goiter, and can lead to hair loss, muscle weakness, diarrhea, irritability, weight loss and other symptoms. The symptoms of producing too little thyroid hormone include unexplained weight gain, constipation, sore muscles, forgetfulness, and signs of clinical depression. The wrong amount in either direction causes fatigue, and can increase the risk of miscarriage.
Here are some other things to look for that may indicate thyroid trouble:
- Changes in hair, skin, and nails. Your fingernails may separate from the nail-bed, hair might change texture or fall out, your skin may become thick and scaly or, depending on what the problem is, fragile or thin.
- Carpel tunnel or tendonitis. Thyroid problems can cause aching or weakness in the arms, legs, and feet.
- Menstrual irregularities. Too little or too much hormone can both throw off your cycle, making periods less frequent and lighter or more frequent and heavier, respectively. In either case, it could affect your fertility.
- Chronic high cholesterol. Because of thyroid hormone’s role in metabolism, too little could lead to a seemingly intractable cholesterol problem.
- Anxiety. Thyroid hormone also regulates mood and emotional responses, meaning irregularities with the thyroid gland can cause mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, or panic disorders.
If you have any of these signs, see your doctor right away. They can perform blood tests to measure the amount of both types of thyroid hormones your body is producing and using, as well as the hormone produced in the pituitary gland that activates the thyroid.