The human body is entirely connected. It is important to understand the function of major organs and body parts in order to live a healthy life. One major body part that is often ignored is the thyroid. Though it is involved in many functions of the body, few people understand what it does. Unfortunately, this means that lots of individuals with thyroid problems go untreated; it is difficult to know that something is wrong without understanding how an organ functions correctly.
What Does The Thyroid Do?
The thyroid is a gland in the endocrine system that is located in the neck. It sits in front of the windpipe, and is shaped similarly to a butterfly. This gland primarily controls metabolism. Hormones play a central role in how the rest of the body can function; metabolism has far reaching consequences for the entire body.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Malfunctioning Thyroid?
There are two common issues that can affect the thyroid: Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism. The first means that the thyroid is producing an excess of hormones, whereas the second means that it is producing too little. Both of these conditions have unique symptoms that are described below.
It is worth noting that there are other diseases and conditions that can affect the thyroid, such as thyroid cancer and thyroid eye disease. However, these conditions are rare, and most of the time Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism is to blame for any symptoms that the thyroid causes.
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid is under-producing hormones. This is to say that the body’s thyroid is not properly managing the metabolism.
Some common symptoms of Hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Feeling cold and/or tired
- Muscle weakness
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair
If a doctor suspects that a patient has Hypothyroidism, a hormone test can be used to confirm or deny the suspicion. The common thyroid treatment for Hypothyroidism is a thyroid hormone replacement to give the body the influx it needs to properly function, taken in pill form. It may take time and trial and error to discover the correct type of hormone and dosage to use. There are other ways to help mitigate Hypothyroidism symptoms, which will be discussed down below.
What Emotional Problems Does Hypothyroidism Cause?
It is important to reiterate that there are significant emotional side effects of thyroid disease. Because the thyroid affects hormone levels, individuals can experience significant mood changes as a result. Depression is a common symptom in individuals who have Hypothyroidism.
Specifically, individuals can become forgetful, experience fatigue, lack focus, and move slowly. If the disease is left untreated, some individuals begin to experience hallucinations and other more acute alterations of the senses.
Unfortunately, many of these emotional symptoms are common in other diseases as well. Depression is a full disease on its own, and does not always trigger medical professionals to investigate the thyroid as a culprit. This can lead to undiagnosed disease and more severe symptoms for patients.
On the other end of the spectrum, Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid produces too many hormones.
This can lead to symptoms such as:
- Increased appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Heart palpitations
- Changes in menstruation
- Increased bowel movements
- Trouble sleeping
Unfortunately, Hyperthyroidism tends to be a bit more difficult to treat. However, it is still treatable with proper medical attention.
A doctor will likely put the patient on antithyroid medications or beta blockers to help mitigate the amount of hormones being released. Radioactive iodine and surgery are also potential options in some cases, depending on the patient and severity of the condition.
What Are The Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems In Females?
No matter the gender of the patient, many of the symptoms of thyroid problems are the same. It is worth noting that those who were assigned female at birth are more susceptible to thyroid disease in general. This often works to their advantage, as doctors are more likely to check thyroid health.
For people who menstruate, changes in periods can be a strong symptom or indicator that something is wrong with their thyroid. Of course, other conditions can affect menstruation, but because the thyroid deals with hormones it is an easy culprit.
What Causes Thyroid Problems?
There is no straightforward or single cause of thyroid problems. They can be caused by an array of different conditions and situations, and every patient is different. Some causes are hereditary, while others are not. It depends on the individual.
Some individuals who may be at higher risk include:
- Individuals with a family history of thyroid disease
- Individuals who are taking medications that contain excessive Iodine
- Individuals over 60
- Individuals with certain medical conditions
None of these are a guarantee that thyroid disease will appear. However, they can be good indicators that a person is at a higher risk. Individuals who fit into one or more of the above categories should talk to their doctor, and watch for warning signs of Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is more common than Hyperthyroidism, and can be caused by a variety of different diseases, conditions, deficiencies, and other medical situations.
Thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Or Postpartum Thyroiditis
Thyroiditis is a condition categorized by swelling or inflammation in the thyroid gland. This often causes Hypothyroidism, as it causes the thyroid to underproduce.
In Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis situations, the patient is suffering from an autoimmune condition. The patient’s immune system is attacking the thyroid without need. This causes damage, and often leads to thyroid malfunction. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is more often hereditary than Thyroiditis.
Postpartum Thyroiditis, the patient experiences Thyroiditis in the time following childbirth. In many situations, this is temporary, similar to gestational diabetes. Less than 10% of women experience Postpartum Thyroiditis.
Sometimes, the thyroid fails to do its job as soon as the child is born. This is simply the way that the child is, and is not necessarily due to any sort of underlying disease or genetics. However, it is imperative that non-functioning thyroids are treated from the very start. Serious physical and mental conditions can occur if a child isn’t properly treated. All newborns who are born in hospitals have their thyroids tested when they are born, to avoid any long term effects and begin treatment immediately.
Low Iodine Levels
This condition, also called Iodine Deficiency, is fairly common. In fact, millions of individuals around the world have iodine deficiencies. Despite its common nature, it does need to be treated as soon as possible.
Causes of Hyperthyroidism
Just because Hyperthyroidism is not as common as Hypothyroidism doesn’t mean that it does not occur. There are millions of individuals worldwide living with Hyperthyroidism. Causes of the disease are as follows.
Quite the opposite of the above example, some individuals have too much of the mineral, iodine, in their systems. This causes the thyroid to overproduce hormones, which results in Hyperthyroidism. Some medications, such as cough syrups and heart medications, contain high levels of iodine.
Overactive nodules on the thyroid can cause Hyperthyroidism. Nodules are simply an overgrowth of skin tissue, and they can occur anywhere on the body. They usually occur underneath the skin, but can appear on internal organs such as the thyroid as well.
Some cases only have one nodule, making them cases of Toxic Autonomously Functioning Thyroid Nodules, whereas several nodules on a thyroid gland are called Toxic Multinodular Goiters.
Graves’ Disease is the most common culprit behind Hyperthyroidism cases. This disease is categorized by an excess production of thyroid hormones, which can lead to the condition of Hyperthyroidism.
Coping With Thyroid Problems
It can be difficult to discover that an essential part of one’s body is not working correctly. Many patients feel discouraged or disheartened following a diagnosis. However, it does not have to be this way. A diagnosis of either or Hyperthyroidism is simply more information that can help the patient feel better.
If you’re wondering how to cope with Hypothyroidism symptoms, just know that there are medication options that can help to curb some of the symptoms of these conditions. Beyond medication, there are even some lifestyle changes that can be beneficial to those living with a thyroid disease. Before trying any of these, however, patients should always consult their doctor.
Implement A Healthy Diet
It is important to recall that thyroid problems directly involve the level of metabolic hormones in the body. Because digestion is affected, eating a healthy diet can help the body to absorb the proper nutrients and support the thyroid in producing hormones. Generally speaking, however, a healthy diet is important for everyone. There are significant diseases and side effects that can result from poor eating habits.
Smoking cessation is one of the best things that individuals can do for their health. For patients suffering from thyroid disease, however, this is especially important. Cigarettes and tobacco products put additional stress on the thyroid specifically. Smoking can:
- Prevents Iodine absorption in the thyroid
- Impedes the production of hormones in the thyroid
- Increases kidney Iodine production, which in turn can inflame the gallbladder, and cause other side effects
This is the first step for thyroid patients who smoke; there is no better way to help one’s condition than discontinuing cigarette and tobacco use.
It’s no secret that stress is bad in almost all situations. A single stressful event can derail a patient’s health for days, weeks, or even years. When it comes to thyroid conditions, managing stress is especially important. Again, the thyroid is central to hormone production and transfer. When stress occurs, the hormone cortisol spikes in the body. Cortisol can cause damage to the thyroid. It may even be a central factor in the development of autoimmune diseases.
Sleep can truly work wonders for the body. During this restful state, the body is able to recharge, recalibrate, and fix issues that may be occurring.
Individuals suffering from thyroid problems should be sure to:
- Create and follow a sleep schedule
- Turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime
- Use relaxing techniques such as listening to music, engaging in aromatherapy, or taking a warm bath
- Eliminate distractions from the bedroom such as TVs, smartphones, tablets, pets, and sometimes other people
The bottom line is that thyroid disease requires that the individual do whatever they need to in order to get regular, restful sleep.
See A Therapist
For many people, talk therapy can help to check several of the above boxes. Therapy can help to manage stress and create healthy coping mechanisms for emotional situations. A decrease in stress often leads to better sleep, creating a positive domino effect.
In reality, many individuals who are diagnosed with diseases feel lost, afraid, alone, or all of the above. Going to a therapist helps many people to talk through these difficult feelings, and feel more empowered in their situation. It is helpful to remember that thyroid problems are treatable, and the situation does not need to be catastrophic.
Need More Information? Talk To A Doctor
One of the best things that any individual can do for their health is talk to a licensed medical professional about their symptoms and concerns. No internet articles will be able to make a diagnosis, but a doctor certainly can. Seeking medical help means that patients receive advice that is tailored to their specific needs. They can create a plan of action, which often makes the situation feel less intimidating.
If you need a doctor to talk with, here at AZGYN our expert providers are here to answer any questions you have about your thyroid and health overall. Reach out if you’d like to speak to one of our female healthcare providers.
Kristina Calligan is a sub-specialty nurse practitioner in Women’s Health. A native to Arizona she obtained her Bachelor of Science in nursing in 2006 at Grand Canyon University in Glendale, Arizona. Never one to stop striving and achieving all that she could, she completed two master degrees in Nursing Science and Business Administration in 2012. Ms. Calligan joined Arizona Gynecology Consultants in 2009. Prior to working at Arizona Gynecology Consultants, she worked as a nurse in labor and delivery at several local hospitals and a research coordinator in women’s health care.