Seven possible signs of an underactive thyroid gland
What are the signs of hypothyroidism—a chronic condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones for your body’s needs? Symptoms can range from lack of energy to increasing weight gain, although it is important to note that these specific symptoms can also relate to a number of different health problems or simply be a sign that you need more quality rest.
So how do you recognize that your thyroid is causing health problems? Thyroid hormones are directly responsible for how your body uses and stores energy. When their levels are low, your metabolism slows down, which affects almost every organ in your body, and this can be caused by anything from thyroid damage, autoimmune disorders, and lifestyle factors.
If you are concerned that you may have thyroid issues, be sure to read on. But one warning: don’t go through this list, identify the symptoms and come to your own conclusion. If you think you may be showing signs of an underactive thyroid, then you need to seek help from a medical professional who can make a diagnosis.
dr. Rebecca Breslow is a physician, researcher, and writer. She graduated from Yale University and completed her medical training at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Boston Children’s Hospital. She was a practitioner in academic medicine for 17 years, during which time she authored numerous publications for academic and lay audiences. He currently focuses on freelance medical writing and editing to make medical, health and wellness information accessible to a wide audience.
Struggling to lose weight
There are many reasons why you may struggle to lose weight. Maybe you’re not exercising enough or eating too much calories. You may be suffering from poverty sleep or some of your medications interfere with your metabolism.
If your struggle is hard to explain, you’ll want to rule out hypothyroidism. Trouble maintaining weight is one of the most common signs of an underactive thyroid gland, and there are clear reasons for this.
As mentioned earlier, thyroid hormones regulate the way your body uses and stores energy. According to the review in Physiological Reviews (opens in new tab)reduced thyroid hormone levels are associated with a slower metabolism, which reduces resting energy expenditure (the number of calories burned at rest) and can lead to weight gain.
Thyroid hormones also help regulate appetite, according to research in Journal of Thyroid Research (opens in new tab)so an underactive thyroid can cause you to feel more hungry, even if you don’t need to eat more food.
You’re always tired
Fatigue is a very broad symptom and can signal many different health problems. It can be a direct result of chronic stress, lack of sleep, certain medications, and physical exertion, but rest usually helps you rejuvenate.
However, if your fatigue seems to have no plausible explanation, and a good night’s sleep makes little difference to your energy levels, it could be a sign of hormonal problems.
Indeed, fatigue is considered one of the primary signs of an underactive thyroid gland. In a study published in European Journal of Endocrinology (opens in new tab)fatigue was reported as a symptom in 52% of adult patients and 31% of pediatric patients.
Why is this the case? As already mentioned, thyroid hormones are directly responsible for energy metabolism. With a low metabolism, your body will try to conserve as much energy as possible.
You can’t stand the cold
Have you been more sensitive to cold temperatures lately? A problem with cold tolerance is another sign of an underactive thyroid gland. Your body is quite adept at regulating your temperature. Whenever it senses a drop in temperature, it burns more calories to generate heat.
Most of the time, it is a seamless process that is hardly noticed on a daily basis. But when your thyroid hormones aren’t working as they should and your metabolism slows down, so does your ability to keep warm. According to a study in Journal of General Internal Medicine (opens in new tab)approximately 40% of people with hypothyroidism feel more sensitive to cold than before.
Your muscles and joints ache
Muscles and joints will hurt for different reasons. According to the article in American Family Physician (opens in new tab) magazine, muscle problems can be reduced to a variety of infectious, neurological, inflammatory, rheumatological, genetic, metabolic, electrolyte, or drug-related. But if everything seems to be in perfect shape and you’re still struggling with pain, you may need to get your thyroid hormones checked.
But why? People with hypothyroidism have an altered metabolism that is more focused on catabolism rather than anabolism. Catabolism is the state of breaking down muscle tissue for energy, while anabolism helps you gain muscle. With low thyroid hormone levels, your muscle mass and strength can decrease, leading to feelings of pain and weakness.
You have dry skin and thin hair
Dry skin and thinning or dry hair is another sign of an underactive thyroid gland. Like all other cells in the body, the growth and metabolism of hair follicles and skin cells is regulated by thyroid hormones.
A study published in International Journal of Trichology (opens in new tab) reported different levels of thyroid dysfunction in different types of alopecia and also showed that the prevalence of thyroid dysfunction in patients with alopecia increased with age.
Similarly, when skin cells are not renewed often enough, dead skin cells do not shed as they normally would. This build-up of damaged skin can lead to flaking and a dry appearance.
You have heavy or irregular periods
Changes in the menstrual cycle can happen for many different reasons. While some may be relatively harmless and related to lifestyle factors such as stress, diet, travel or weight changes, others indicate serious health problems.
Indeed, heavy and/or irregular periods are one of the signs of an underactive thyroid gland. This is because thyroid hormones are related to the functioning of the reproductive system.
A complex interaction between different hormones helps regulate the menstrual cycle and ensures that the ovaries and uterus work properly. According to a review published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (opens in new tab)women with hypothyroidism tend to have heavier and more irregular periods.
Fight a bad mood
One of the less obvious signs of an underactive thyroid is depression. However, it is worth pointing out that of all the symptoms mentioned so far, this one is perhaps the least clear.
Scientists are still not sure if there is a direct link between hypothyroidism and mood disorders. According to a meta-analysis published in JAMA Psychiatry (opens in new tab), the link between hypothyroidism and depression is not as strong as previously assumed and may be more pronounced in women than in men. Others meta-analysis (opens in new tab) published in Translational Psychiatry found that hypothyroidism may be associated with mood disorders in younger patients but not in older ones. It also showed that thyroid hormone replacement therapy did not improve symptoms of depression.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical advice.
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