The thyroid gland quietly does its job behind the scene without our even noticing. When it begins to act up, you may not even consider it as a source for your recurring trouble – whether it’s lack of sleep, drastic shifts in mood, or digestive problems. Since the hormones that the thyroid releases are such an integral part of regulating your metabolism, a malfunction (by being overactive or underactive) can cause problems with seemingly unrelated aspects of your health.
Thyroid and metabolism
The thyroid gland is a bowtie-shaped organ. It’s located at the front of your neck, just above the collarbone. The thyroid hormones play a key role in metabolism, which is the body’s way of using and converting energy. The body tries to keep things balanced and working efficiently. The thyroid hormones are part of this process.
The thyroid releases two main hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Although small, these hormones regulate the rate of many vital functions, including how fast you burn calories, your heart rate, digestion, menstruation, and even how much you perspire. As they flow through your bloodstream, these hormones send signals to either accelerate or decelerate certain functions of your body. They play a critical role in the functioning of many of your body’s major organs, including your heart, liver, kidneys, and brain.
You can think of the thyroid hormones like the accelerator on your car. A hyperactive (or overactive) thyroid speeds up many of your body’s processes. A hypoactive (or underactive) thyroid slows them down.
An underactive thyroid can cause:
- Puffiness in the face and around the eyes
- Weight gain, even when you’re eating about the same amount of food that you usually eat
- Cold intolerance
- Joint and muscle pain
- Slowed heart rate
- Dry, thinning hair
- Decreased sweating
An overactive thyroid can cause:
- Nervousness or irritability
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss, even when you’re eating about the same amount of food that you usually eat
- Rapid heartbeat, not related to physical activity or exertion
- Mood swings
- Muscle weakness
- Hand tremors
- Heat intolerance
- More frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
Work with your health care provider
The problem is that the symptoms for both an overactive thyroid and an underactive thyroid can also be related to other medical conditions. Therefore, it’s a good idea to see your health care provider to discuss your symptoms and find out what may be causing them.
A thyroid screening is relatively easy and painless. It will help check the functioning of your thyroid. If it is thyroid disease that you’re experiencing, your health care provider will work with you on the best options for your care.
Am I at higher risk?
Here are some risk factors associated with thyroid disease:
- Being female (more than 80 percent of patients with thyroid disease are women)
- Being older (risk increases if your over 60 and a woman)
- Having a history of thyroid disease in your immediate family
- Having had an autoimmune disease or having a history of autoimmune diseases in your immediate family
- Having diabetes or having someone in your immediate family who has diabetes
- Having been exposed to radiation in the throat or upper chest area
- Having been pregnant or delivered a baby in the past six months
If you have any these risk factors, be sure to share this with your medical provider, so that you can determine, as a team, when you should be screened.