The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland at the front of the neck. It is one of the body’s largest endocrine glands and is responsible for secreting two major hormones: T3 and T4. A deficiency or imbalance of these hormones can significantly affect your body’s functions. For example, if you have a persistent feeling of being tired even when you have been sleeping well, you are always cold or hot, or you have trouble with your weight or metabolism, you could have a thyroid imbalance. Today, we’ll discuss thyroid imbalances and how you can determine if you have one.
What Are the Symptoms of a Thyroid Imbalance?
Hypothyroidism symptoms include:
- Fatigue, loss of energy, or lethargy
- Weight gain
- Decreased appetite
- Cold intolerance
- Dry skin
- Hair loss (hypothyroidism-related hair loss is temporary, and with successful treatment, regrowth takes place)
- Muscle pain, joint pain, and weakness in the extremities
- Fullness in the throat, hoarseness
- Blurred vision
- Paresthesia (abnormal sensation of the skin, like burning, tingling, or pricking) and decreased perspiration
Hyperthyroidism symptoms include:
- A high state of excitability
- Intolerance to heat
- Increased sweating
- Mild to extreme weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Extreme fatigue
- Inability to sleep
- Tremors of hands
- Heart palpitations
- Fine, brittle hair and thinner skin
Causes of a Thyroid Imbalance
Hypothyroidism can be caused to the following:
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: An autoimmune disorder where the body produces certain antibodies that attack and destroy the thyroid gland.
- Radiation Therapy: Used to treat certain neck cancers such as lymphoma.
- Radioactive Iodine Treatment: A procedure to treat hyperthyroidism that damages thyroid cells and diminishes hormone secretion.
- Certain Medications: Some medications that treat heart problems, psychiatric conditions, and cancer can affect the production of thyroid hormones.
- Thyroid Surgery: When all or part of the thyroid is removed.
- Low Iodine in Diet: A diet with little to no Iodine can cause hypothyroidism because the thyroid gland requires iodine to produce thyroid hormone.
- Pituitary Gland Disorder: The pituitary gland makes TSH (stimulating thyroid hormone), which stimulates thyroid hormone release.
- Hypothalamus Disorder: The hypothalamus is an essential part of the brain that controls many body functions. Disorder of it can affect the release of TSH from the pituitary, ultimately resulting in hypothyroidism.
- Post-Pregnancy: Sometimes, thyroid inflammation can occur after pregnancy; this condition is usually temporary.
Hyperthyroidism can be caused by the following:
- Graves’ Disease: The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is this autoimmune disease in which antibodies cause the thyroid to make too much T4 and T3.
- Thyroid Nodules (Plummer’s Disease): More common in elderly adults, it occurs when lumps of tissue in the thyroid (nodules) are overactive.
- Thyroiditis: Inflammation of the thyroid gland due to viral or bacterial infection. It can occur after pregnancy, when your immune system is compromised, or if you take too much thyroid medication.
Anyone can develop a thyroid imbalance, and it can even be present at the time of birth. If a person has the following factors, they can be at higher risk of developing this condition.
- A family history of thyroid disease
- Type 1 diabetes, primary adrenal insufficiency, lupus, Turner syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren’s syndrome
- A history of thyroid surgery (thyroidectomy) or radiation therapy to the neck or upper chest.
- Women are five to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with a thyroid problem than men, especially women over 60.
- Have been treated with radioactive iodine or antithyroid medications
- Pregnancy: Postpartum thyroiditis occurs in 5-9% of women and is usually temporary.
For hypothyroidism, doctors usually prescribe Levothyroxine, an oral medicine.
For hyperthyroidism, the following can be used as treatments:
- Antithyroid medications like methimazole and propylthiouracil.
- Radioactive iodine, which prevents the making of high levels of thyroid hormone.
- Beta-blockers, which combat symptoms of hyperthyroidism, such as palpitations, tachycardia, anxiety, and heat tolerance.
- Surgical removal of the thyroid gland (thyroidectomy), which results in thyroid hormone deficit or entire absence in the body, requiring thyroid hormone replacement medications for the rest of one’s life to maintain normal physiological functions.
When to See a Doctor
See a doctor if you’re experiencing tiredness, muscle weakness, a puffy face, a hoarse voice, or paresthesia because they could be signs of hypothyroidism. If you have hyperthyroidism, you may encounter tremors, overactive reflexes, or extreme weight loss with tachycardia (increased heartbeat).
Both conditions can be dangerous if left untreated; however, hypothyroidism is more common and has more severe outcomes. If you are 60 or older, have any autoimmune disease, or have a family history of thyroid disease, schedule a thyroid screening with your doctor.
Do you or someone you know have a thyroid imbalance? Share your experience with us in the comments below!