Thyroid: Is Your Body Tricking You?

Watch for fatigue, weight change, trouble sleeping

Contributor: Endocrinologist Christian Nasr, MD

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Feeling tired, gaining or losing a few pounds, or having trouble sleeping? It could be many things, including a thyroid disorder.

Thyroid disorders affect more than 20 million Americans. People with thyroid disorders outnumber those with asthma and heart disease.

Patients often come to me with these common complaints, which can be symptoms of many conditions, including disorders of the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland. It weighs about an ounce and is located at the front of your neck, below your Adam’s apple.

Here, find descriptions of thyroid disorders and associated symptoms:

Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)

Patients with overactive thyroid will be nervous, irritable and shaky. They may have a racing heart, excessive sweating, heat intolerance, frequent bowel movements, thinning of the hair, weight loss and irregular periods. These symptoms may accompany a goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland).

Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

Symptoms of an underactive thyroid include slowing of body function, slower thinking, depression, coldness, constipation, muscle weakness, abnormal periods and slowing of the metabolism leading to moderate weight gain. Some patients also have goiters. However, many patients with hypothyroidism do not have symptoms, so screening with a blood test is important.

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Goiters and nodules

Most nodules (lumps in the thyroid) are painless, so they usually are discovered by a doctor feeling a patient’s neck during a routine physical exam. Larger nodules – typically noticed while shaving or putting on makeup – cause difficulty swallowing and breathing, or hoarseness. In rare cases, nodules may cause hyperthyroidism.

Most people who have a goiter aren’t aware of it until the goiter becomes large enough that they can feel or see it. Goiters can grow to an enormous size before they cause symptoms such as difficulty breathing or swallowing, or a change in voice.

Thyroid cancer

Usually, patients do not experience any symptoms, and the cancer is found as a lump or nodule on examination of the neck or when an imaging test such as an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI is performed for an unrelated condition. In rare cases, thyroid cancer will cause pain, difficulty swallowing or hoarseness.

Women are much more likely than men to develop thyroid cancer. Most types of thyroid cancer can be completely removed with surgery, and survival rates are quite high.

Why is it difficult to diagnose thyroid disorders?

Since many of the individual symptoms of thyroid disorders are extremely common, many people suffering from thyroid conditions remain undiagnosed because it is hard for a physician to pinpoint the problem unless the symptoms are viewed as part of a larger investigation.

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This is why it is important to see your doctor if you suspect you may have a problem with your thyroid. Thankfully, effective treatments ranging from medications to surgery are available for most thyroid disorders.

More information

Thyroid Center

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