Thyroid disease is a general term for conditions related to your thyroid—a small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that produces hormones. The thyroid makes two hormones: triiodothyronine (T-3) and thyroxine (T-4), which are responsible for regulating your body’s metabolism and playing a role in your digestion, breathing, heart rate, weight, and mood.
If there is a dysfunction in the way your thyroid hormones work, you can develop a thyroid condition. There are a wide range of thyroid diseases, but the most common conditions include hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), and thyroid nodules (or, lumps).
Symptoms of thyroid disease can occur gradually, making it difficult to notice at first. However, if left untreated, thyroid conditions can become severe and sometimes life-threatening. Knowing the signs of thyroid disease can help you be proactive about your thyroid health and seek care if you experience symptoms.
Hypothyroidism—or an underactive thyroid—is a condition that occurs when your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormone, which can slow down your body’s functioning and metabolism.
Having an underactive thyroid can lead to a variety of symptoms, including:
- Feeling cold
- Weight gain
- Slow movement or speech
- Coarse or rough hair
- Hair loss
- Cool, pale, and dry skin
- Brittle nails
- Swollen or puffy face
- Enlargement of the tongue
- Heavy or irregular periods
- Joint pain
- Inability to sweat or a decrease in sweating
- Feeling tired after exercise
- Irritable or depressive mood
- Goiter (enlarged thyroid) that makes your neck look swollen
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fertility problems or difficulty conceiving in people assigned female at birth
- Erectile dysfunction or trouble ejaculating in people assigned male at birth
One reason that thyroid issues can be difficult to notice and diagnose is because many of these symptoms can mimic symptoms of other conditions. However, it’s good practice to see your healthcare provider if you notice new occurrences of these symptoms.
At your appointment, your healthcare provider can also check for other symptoms of hypothyroidism, including:
- Delayed reflex in your tendons
- A slow heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Hyperthyroidism—or overactive thyroid—is a condition that occurs when your thyroid produces more hormone than your body needs, which can speed up your body’s processes.
Generally, symptoms of hyperthyroidism are the opposite of symptoms of hypothyroidism. But, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism share these symptoms in common: fatigue, hair loss, difficulty sleeping, and goiter.
Symptoms specific to hyperthyroidism include:
- Feeling hot
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
- Weight loss
- Increased sweating
- Hand tremors or shaking in other body parts
- Softened nails
- Skin changes including raised, darkened patches on your legs
- Eye changes, such as eye bulging, blurred vision, and swelling around the eyes
- Diarrhea or having to use the bathroom more often
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle weakness
- Light or short menstrual periods in people assigned female at birth
When you see your healthcare provider, they can also check for:
- An elevated heart rate
- Heart palpitations or a pounding heart
- Abnormal heart rhythm
Keep in mind: having heart-related symptoms can be a sign of other diseases, so issues with your heart rate or rhythm will accompany other hyperthyroidism symptoms if you have a thyroid condition.
Thyroid Nodules Symptoms
Thyroid nodules (lumps) occur when you have an overgrowth of tissue or a collection of fluid in your thyroid gland. As a result, these lumps can look like bumps in your neck.
Most of the time, thyroid nodules start out small and hard to notice. But if they become big enough, you might experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty swallowing food
- Trouble breathing
- Hoarse or croaky voice
- Neck pain
- A feeling of fullness or something being stuck in your throat
In some cases, thyroid nodules can cause an excess amount of hormone, which may increase your risk of developing hyperthyroidism. Because these nodules can be difficult to detect when they are small, if you notice a change of feeling in your neck, it’s a good idea to ask your healthcare provider to do a quick neck scan at your next appointment.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
If you notice any changes in your neck or think you may have symptoms of thyroid disease, it’s important to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Your provider can properly test you for a thyroid condition and get you an accurate diagnosis, if necessary.
Thyroid disease can become serious and life-threatening if your condition is left untreated. While treatment can help manage symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, complications of these conditions can occur if you wait too long.
Some symptoms of thyroid disease can also look like symptoms of other conditions. If you begin to experience excessive fatigue, shortness of breath, and changes in your heart rate or rhythm, you should schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider soon. These symptoms may be early signs of more serious conditions, such as some types of heart diseases, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
Getting an early diagnosis for thyroid disease, or any other related condition, not only helps you get started on treatment sooner, but can also improve symptoms and your quality of life.
A Quick Review
Thyroid disease is an umbrella term for a variety of thyroid-related conditions. The most common thyroid problems are hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), and thyroid nodules (lumps in your thyroid and neck).
Symptoms of thyroid disease can vary from person to person and depend on the exact thyroid condition you have. While hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism generally cause opposing symptoms related to your body temperature, mood, energy levels, and bowel movement, they do share some features, like fatigue and hair loss.
If you notice symptoms of hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, or have a lump or swelling in your neck, you may find it helpful to reach out to your healthcare provider sooner rather than later. Your provider can help you undergo a diagnostic process and get you started on treatment, if needed.
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