Are you sleeping poorly at night?
Feel cranky, exhausted or lethargic during the day? Or, maybe nervous, jittery and restless?
Gaining weight and you don’t know why?
Does your skin feel dry or is your hair falling out?
Many conditions can cause these issues in our bodies. But there’s a chance it could be a problem with the thyroid. So how do you know? And what can you do about it?
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ in the front of the neck. It produces hormones that affect all organs of the body. You can think of the thyroid as the master metabolism gland that controls the speed at which the body burns fuel and functions.
The thyroid supports many functions in the body through two main hormones – T3 and T4. Jordan W. Rawl, MD, with Lexington ENT & Allergy says “Together, T3 and T4 support metabolism, heart rate, body temperature regulation, growth processes, sexual function and healing processes. ”
What is hyperthyroidism?
People with hyperthyroidism have high amounts of thyroid hormones in the blood that can lead to ease of weight loss or inability to gain weight, heat intolerance, rapid heart rate and palpitations, tremors, nervousness and anxiousness.
Bones may become thinner. Blood pressure, pulse and sugar may become abnormal. For some, it can be dangerous if large amounts of thyroid hormones are produced at one time – leading to a crisis called a thyroid storm.
What is hypothyroidism?
In this condition, not enough thyroid hormones are produced. That slows down the body’s metabolism – leading to sluggishness, weight gain, low blood pressure and pulse rate, dry skin and nails, loss of hair and depression. The heart can also become a less effective pump.
Hypothyroidism can also lead to slow gut functions such as constipation, cold intolerance and heavy menstrual bleeding.
How can we know if these problems are related to the thyroid or something else such as poor nutrition, lack of exercise or mental health?
The only way to determine if thyroid issues are the cause of your symptoms is to have thyroid lab work with your primary care provider, who may check hormones including T3, T4 and the TSH. If the values are abnormal, some of your symptoms may be related to the thyroid. “However, most weight gain or loss issues are multifactorial and unlikely to be related to just one problem. With the help of your doctor, you should work on approaching weight issues from multiple standpoints for a healthier result,” says Dr. Rawl.
Thyroid conditions are common. Having regular checkups can help lead to the diagnosis of thyroid conditions of all types.
What are thyroid nodules and how are they different than thyroid cancer?
Nodules appear within the gland commonly. One in 15 women and one in 60 men have a palpable nodule in the thyroid. Most are not cancer. Some are fluid-filled cysts while others are solid. Commonly, they produce no symptoms. Doctors determine what’s present through a physical exam and testing.
Dr. Rawl cautions, “A firm lump in the low midline of the neck or firm lumps on the sides of the neck can sometimes signal thyroid cancer. Anyone with development of a firm lump anywhere in the neck that does not go away within a few weeks should seek medical attention.” Other thyroid cancer symptoms can include progressive hoarseness or difficulty swallowing that does not go away. Thyroid cancer is diagnosed based on thyroid ultrasound, needle biopsy and pathology – followed by surgery and radioactive iodine to clean up remaining thyroid cells.
Basic thyroid lab work should be part of screening labs for every adult. Thankfully, thyroid cancer is a highly treatable type of cancer and most thyroid conditions are benign.