Thyroid disorders are common among millions of Americans. Most of them don’t even know they have a thyroid disorder until the symptoms become so magnified that a doctor finally does a test for it.
A thyroid is a gland found in your neck that regulates your hormone secretion. These particular hormones (which comes in two forms – T3 and T4) contribute to the regulation of your metabolism, growth and your overall energy.
So when these hormones are released in your body, it helps you burn calories, helps your heartbeat, and they basically assist you in keeping your metabolism up.
There are two forms of thyroid disorders (aside from thyroid cancer) – hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. You have to know what the signs and symptoms are so that you can begin treatment of either disorder as soon as possible.
The problem is that most symptoms don’t all hit you at once – they show up gradually as time goes on, so your doctor might diagnose you wrongly. It pays to be aware of what it might be so that you can demand testing if necessary.
Signs You Might Have Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is when your body’s thyroid goes into overdrive and makes way too much of the hormones it’s supposed to produce. Usually, this is due to a condition known as Graves’ disease, which is an autoimmune disorder – but not always.
It could be caused by thyroid nodules as well.
Like most thyroid issues, it isn’t something you wake up with one day and instantly know what’s hit you. It comes on slowly. Initially, it’s osteoporosis that will occur first.
You may not know it unless you begin experiencing brittle bones due to a fall and a fracture. If you’re postmenopausal, you might want to get tested for both conditions and see if there’s a connection.
But there are other signs and symptoms that you can pick up on – and make sure you write them all down as you experience them so that you have a comprehensive look at your health status.
Here are some of the most common symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism:
- You’re eating the same (or more), but losing weight.
- You’re tired, weak and irritable much of the time.
- The number of bowel movements you have in a day increases.
- You’re nervous a lot and your hands get shaky.
- Your heart feels like it’s pounding out of your chest or too beating fast.
- You suffer from double vision at times, or irritable eyes.
- If you’re female, you’ve started having irregular periods that are lighter and few and far between.
- You suffer from insomnia.
- You can’t deal with the heat and you sweat profusely.
Having one or two of these symptoms doesn’t mean necessarily have a thyroid disorder – but it could. It’s always better to get checked out so that you can start treatment soon.
Signs You Might Have Hypothyroidism
The opposite of hyperthyroidism is hypothyroidism. It’s when your thyroid doesn’t secrete enough of the hormones that you need to make your metabolism work right. That’s because it’s being attacked by your immune system.
Some of the symptoms for hypothyroidism are the same as they are for hyperthyroidism, such as fatigue and muscle weakness. But other symptoms are opposite of that condition.
- Instead of weight loss, you’ll gain weight.
- Instead of overheating, you’ll be cold.
- Instead of too many bowel movements, you won’t have enough.
- Instead of light periods, you’ll have heavy ones.
There are some unique symptoms, too.
- You might feel like you have clouded thinking. You’re not mentally sharp when your thyroid is out of whack. Your memory might take a hit, too.
- You might suffer from dried out skin and brittle or thinning hair.
- You might have pain in your joints.
- You might have high cholesterol.
- You might experience hoarse vocals periodically.
- You might be depressed.
Hashimoto’s Disease is one of the most common causes for this disorder that makes your immune system attack your thyroid. But it’s not the only cause. You might get it because you’ve had your thyroid taken out or because you’re having cancer treatment that includes radiation.
Getting Tested for a Thyroid Disorder
Women are more likely to have thyroid disorders than men – but that doesn’t mean that men are immune to them. And the older you get, the more likely it is that you’ll end up with a thyroid disorder.
Testing is on-going once you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder because your doctor will need to know where your levels currently stand so he or she can adjust your medication properly.
The symptoms are so vague and common to other health situations that it’s hard for your doctor to diagnose it without a firm test that proves whether you have a thyroid disorder or not.
This type of illness is often hereditary. It’s important for you to find out if your parents or grandparents suffered from thyroid disorders. This will be a good indication of what’s causing your symptoms.
The doctor will of course feel your neck for thyroid nodules but that alone won’t deliver a full picture, so more tests need to be run at this point. The most common test is a simple blood test.
The blood test will measure the hormone levels (TSH) and looking at those numbers, the doctor can tell if your thyroid is performing up to standards, too low, or too much.
It’s possible that your doctor will run more blood tests. This will let your doctor check for immune disorders that might be causing the situation in the first place. You don’t get results back that day, but it doesn’t take too long.
Another thing your physician might do is have you consume a capsule with radioactive iodine (known as radioiodine). If your thyroid accepts too much of the radioiodine, then you could be suffering from hyperthyroidism.
If it takes too small of an amount, then you may have hypothyroidism. An ultrasound or a scan can be used to rule out nodules and cancer.
Some doctors will perform a biopsy of your thyroid. Using a very small needle, the doctor inserts it into the thyroid after you’ve been given local anesthesia, to collect fluid and cells that a pathologist can examine so they can rule out thyroid cancer.
Ways to Treat Your Thyroid Disorder
Treatment depends on which thyroid disorder you have as well as the severity of it. There is no one size fits all approach. It also matters what the cause of your disorder is.
Hyperthyroidism is often treated with medications. This prevents your thyroid from making the hormones. You might also be given Beta blockers that prevent the effects of your hyperthyroidism in your body.
The hormones are still released, but your body responds differently, such as with a slower heartbeat.
Surgical removal is an option for your thyroid. But then you might end up suffering from hypothyroidism, too. The surgery removes most of the thyroid, not all.
Radioiodine that you originally swallowed during testing can also work as a treatment option. You can take a bigger dose of the ingredients and it will annihilate the thyroid cells that make too much of the hormone.
Either way, with surgery or radioiodine, you’re destroying the thyroid’s capabilities, so you’ll have to take thyroid pills indefinitely. But that’s a small price to pay – and it will deliver a normal, regulated amount of the hormone that’s not out of control.
One thing that can disappoint many sufferers is that thyroid medicine doesn’t work overnight – or in a few days, or even weeks. It takes months for you to feel the effects so all of the symptoms you’re experiencing will get better – it just might take some time.
With hypothyroidism, your body isn’t making enough of the hormone, so your doctor will probably prescribe pills for you to take to help the body get up to speed.
The pills, which are man-made hormones are known as Levothyroxine (T4) and Liothyronine (T3). You might get one or both prescribed to you by your doctor, depending on his treatment plan.
This isn’t something you can fix and then be medication-free. You’ll probably be on thyroid medicine forever. But once you’ve been on it for 6-12 months, you should see a marked improvement in how you feel.
There are a few other thyroid issues you might want to get checked for – including thyroiditis, Goiters, and thyroid nodules. These are separate from the hypo and hyper thyroid disorders.
Are There Natural Ways to Improve Your Thyroid Function?
Because your thyroid regulates your metabolism, you’ll want to look for natural ways to help improve your metabolism if you’re suffering from hypothyroidism and feeling sluggish – even gaining weight rapidly.
Some people swear by boosting your thyroid with nutritional choices. That means eating lots of iodine-rich foods (yogurt, milk, shellfish) and fewer foods that lower your thyroid function (broccoli, corn, peanuts, spinach).
Most experts agree that soy should be limited or eliminated from your diet if you have hypothyroidism. And there’s evidence that gluten might pose a problem, too.
Of course you probably already know that once you start moving your body, it helps your metabolism. So working out – both cardio and strength training – can help improve the symptoms of an under-active thyroid.
Some research has shown that cortisol can inhibit the T3 hormones from being able to enter your cells. So try to reduce as much stress as you can so that your thyroid functions better.
You can also take supplements to give yourself a good foundation. Add vitamin D3, C and E. Make sure you take zinc and omega-3, too. These all help your body function better.
Getting a diagnosis that your thyroid isn’t functioning and you’ll probably be put on medicine for the rest of your life can be discouraging. But once doctors get the issue under control, you’ll feel much better physically and mentally and be glad you were proactive about your health!