Minor thyroid symptoms could signify something more serious | CraigDailyPress.com

Minor thyroid symptoms could signify something more serious

Minor thyroid symptoms could signify something more serious

By Lynn Nichols and Lauren Glendenning Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health

CRAIG — The common symptoms of a thyroid disorder are often brushed aside by those not familiar with the thyroid gland's important role in the body.

Drastic changes in weight, energy, digestion and mood could point to a thyroid disorder — either an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) — which could lead to more serious consequences if not properly treated. The National Institutes of Health reports that the thyroid — a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck — controls many of the body's most important functions.

The hormones produced by the thyroid help the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles and other organs working as they should, according to the American Thyroid Association.

Why the thyroid matters

Hypothyroidism creates several vague symptoms that may go unnoticed. While it can occur at any age, hypothyroidism is much more common in women, especially those over the age of 60.

"Your thyroid is the thermostat of your body. It controls energy, metabolism, mood, digestive function and temperature," said Dr. Elise Sullivan, a family medicine physician with Memorial Regional Health.

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If you have extra dry skin, often feel cold, tired or constipated, have trouble remembering things, feel depressed, experience muscle cramps, have heavy or painful periods, weight gain or discharge from your breast, it might be hypothyroidism.

"It can be hard to pinpoint and it's not something we test for regularly at annual exams, so if you have even one or two symptoms, ask to be tested," Sullivan said.

The test is a simple blood test that looks at the level of two hormones – TS3 and TS4.

"We look at the opposite of what you'd think, meaning a high TSH means you have low thyroid, and a low TSH means you have too much thyroid hormone. We confirm with a test that measures free T4 levels and sometimes consider testing free T3 hormone levels as well," she said.

Hyperthyroidism can cause serious problems with the heart, bones, muscles, menstrual cycle and fertility, according to the National Institutes of Health. It's less common, affecting only 1 in 100 people, compared to hypothyroidism, which affects about 1 in 20.

When to see your doctor

Some people have full-blown hypothyroidism caused by an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto's Disease, while hyperthyroidism is often caused by an autoimmune disorder called Graves' Disease.

Much more common is hypothyroidism due to a thyroid gland that fails to produce enough hormones.

"We don't really know why the thyroid sometimes stops producing enough hormone, but (hypothyroidism) is 5 to 8 times more common in older women," Sullivan said. "From my perspective, it can occur at any age. I see women in their 20s with hypothyroidism. Men can have it, too."

If you have hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, it's important to get tested because left unchecked these conditions can have serious consequences. According to the Mayo Clinic, untreated hypothyroidism can increase the risk of heart disease, mental health issues, nerve damage in your limbs, infertility and more. Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to osteoporosis, vision loss, skin disorders and heart problems.

It can take some time to get the right medication and right dose to treat these conditions, but generally, people feel better within a few weeks of starting treatment.

"It's important to come back six weeks after starting treatment or switching brands to make sure the medication is working properly. The wrong dose can contribute to falls in the elderly and too much thyroid medicine can cause heart palpitations or heart failure, so it is important to be precise," Sullivan said.

As a final note, avoid self-treatment as it can do more harm than good. Hormones are tricky to get right, so it's best to leave it to the expert — your doctor. If you've been feeling especially tired or seem to be extra bothered by the cold, it could be your thyroid. See your doctor and get it checked.

Editor's note: Sections of this article were previously published in the Craig Press and by Memorial Regional Health.

Thyroid disorders

  • Nearly 1 in 20 Americans ages 12 and older have an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism. Symptoms include fatigue, depression, joint and muscle pain, cold intolerance, slowed heart rate, constipation, weight gain.
  • About 1 in 100 people have an overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism. Symptoms include fatigue, irritability, nervousness, trouble sleeping, muscle weakness, heat intolerance or increased sweating, rapid and irregular heartbeat, frequent bowel movements or diarrhea, weight loss.
  • Thyroid problems are more likely in women or people over the age of 60.
  • A family history of thyroid disorders also increases the risk.
  • If left untreated, thyroid disorders can lead to serious complications.

Source: National Institutes of Health