Thyroid disorders and complications are likely more common than you realize, affecting millions of Americans every year. It's also a very common hereditary issue, passed down from generation to generation — something to which I can personally attest: It certainly affected my family, with both my mom and I having to get ours removed. As such, I'm familiar with a lot of the signs you should get your thyroid checked out; some of them are rather noticeable, although there are also a few that you might never really have thought of. Even if you don't think you're at risk, they're still worth knowing — they're what will tip you off to head to the doctor in the event that there's a problem that needs addressing.
According to the American Thyroid Association, over 12 percent of the United States population will deal with a thyroid problem at some point in their life. That comes out to approximately 20 million Americans with some sort of thyroid disease. Women are five to eight times likelier to have a thyroid problem, compared to men; what's more, 60 percent don't even know they have a problem. While the conditions can be mild and merely pesky annoyances, they can also be more aggressive, impacting your everyday life in a manner that's tough to handle.
The thyroid is so powerful because it affects nearly every organ in our bodies, storing and producing hormones that can do countless things, good and bad. I had half my thyroid removed when I was about 13, something my mom also dealt with years ago (as did other relatives before her). All that's left for me is a scar so faint, most people don't even notice it.
The surgery itself was pretty simple. The symptoms before (with a faulty thyroid) and after (with only half a thyroid) were much trickier. Your experience can vary based on whether your thyroid is over-performing (hyperactive) or under-performing (hypoactive). In my case, I had a hypoactive thyroid.
If you're experiencing any of these things — and especially if you're experiencing several of them — you might want to get your thyroid checked by a doctor. Don't panic: It can usually be done with a simple blood test. Furthermore, all of this is not to say that if you have one of these symptoms, you've got a bum thyroid; just keep in mind that it's a very common problem. If something is regularly and negatively impacting your health and happiness — whatever it may be — you should definitely talk to a medical professional about it.
1. Unpredictable Or Unexplained Changes In Weight
I'm not talking about a "I had Chipotle last night and woke up two pounds heavier" weight gain; that's normal (and also totally fine, because Chipotle is delicious). Rather, these weight fluctuations may seem random and unexplained. The thyroid controls your metabolism, so it's no wonder if can affect your weight — and sure enough, resting metabolic rate has been used to assess thyroid functioning for years. People with hyperactive thyroids frequently have higher metabolic rates, meaning they may be burning calories faster and thus losing weight. Conversely, people with hypoactive thyroids might experience weight gain.
Remember: Correlation does not equal causation. Personally, my weight didn't fluctuate much. There are a number of bodily factors that can influence weight, but the thyroid is certainly one of them.
2. Hair Loss
Thinning of the hair on your head is another potential sign of thyroid problems. Both a hyperactive and hypoactive thyroid can affect hair patterning. Because of the long cycle of hair growth and development, people frequently notice changes several months after the thyroid complications begin. Very commonly, the thinning is uniform, meaning you won't lose hair from one spot and not another; however, everyone is different. My hair, for example, feels like it's maybe half as thick as it used to be; it's very thin all over, but of course I notice it the most up front, since that's what I see in the mirror.
3. Changes In Energy
A lot of this goes back to what we were earlier discussing about metabolic rates, since your metabolism is intertwined with energy. Your cells are constantly making energy, even when you're sitting or sleeping. If you're experiencing a fairly constant, exaggerated lack of energy, a faulty, hypoactive thyroid could be to blame: It doesn't matter how much you rest or sleep — you never feel recharged. Staying physically active can be a serious struggle, but even normal everyday tasks can be difficult. You know how it is: If you're sluggish or lethargic, it affects you in numerous ways. At my worst, I had a hard time getting up a flight of stairs. To this day, I often find myself exhausted 10 minutes into a workout.
Again, though, that's what I experienced with a hypoactive thyroid; a hyperactive thyroid could mean the opposite: You're quite literally hyper, jittery, fidgety.
4. Changes In Appetite
I'm sure that by now, you're starting to connect the dots. If you've got an underactive thyroid, your energy decreases, so you need fewer calories to function. Your appetite goes down and you might eat less. Ironically, since your body is converting far fewer calories into energy, you can actually gain weight. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a hyperactive thyroid can rev up your metabolism, leading to sudden weight loss.
5. Period Problems
Depending on how much of the individual hormones your thyroid is producing, you may notice that your periods are very long or short, heavy or light, or totally irregular. In more extreme cases, some women suffer from amenorrhea, and they lose their period for several months. If your ovaries end up involved in the mess, it could even kickstart you into early menopause.
6. Feeling Too Hot Or Too Cold
If your body is producing too much thyroid hormone, your internal temperature can rise, leaving you feeling constantly warm. Likewise, an under-active thyroid can make for a chillier internal body temperature, meaning you're always cold. It can often take just a slight change in the hormones produced to have an impact.
7. Muscle Aches And Pains
Hypothyroidism in particular leaves many people with joint and muscle pain and weakness. You may experience aching, tenderness, stiffness/inflexibility, and swelling. I've had joint and muscle pain a good majority of my life; but I've also found that sitting at a desk for too long absolutely aggravates it. If you're in my boat, make an effort to get up, move around, stretch, etc. You might find that it helps you too.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the signs; and it bears repeating that these don't automatically point to a thyroid problem. But I can't say it enough: You know when something's off in your body. And if you don't generally feel happy, healthy, and full of life, see someone about it!