If you eat a healthy diet, exercise and get plenty of sleep, yet still involuntarily gain (or lose) weight, feel fatigued or have trouble focusing, you may have a thyroid problem. You’re not alone. More than 12 percent of Americans will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. Sixty percent of them will be women. Many thyroid issues go unchecked when patients dismiss symptoms as normal consequences of aging.
Your Thyroid’s Function
The thyroid is a small gland with a big job: keeping your metabolism in check. This butterfly-shaped organ at the base of your throat secretes hormones that control how your body converts nutrients into energy.
When outside influences interrupt this metabolic process, the thyroid then produces too much or too little of these hormones. This can alter how you burn calories, your heart rate and even your menstrual cycles. Left unchecked, it can lead to other issues such as high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke and blood clots.
Too Much or Too Little?
Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid produces too little of these hormones. This is the most commonly diagnosed form of thyroid disease, affecting nearly 5 percent of Americans. Although it can be hereditary, hypothyroidism is often triggered by autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s or inflammation called thyroiditis. Symptoms can include:
- Feeling cold when others do not
- Weight gain, without eating more
- Joint pain and muscle weakness
- Pale, dry skin and thinning hair
- Increased menstrual bleeding
- Slower heart rate
Hyperthyroidism is the opposite — your thyroid is producing too much of these hormones. Although less common, affecting only 1 percent of Americans, hyperthyroidism is linked to Type 1 diabetes, vitamin B12 deficiencies and Graves' disease. It can even be a precursor to hypothyroidism, causing wide pendulum swings in hormonal production. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include:
- Nervousness or irritability
- Fatigue or muscle weakness
- Trouble tolerating heat
- Trouble sleeping
- Shaky hands
- Rapid and irregular heartbeat
- Weight loss
Stay Aware of Changes
Because symptoms of thyroid disease can be attributed to other concerns, it can be hard to tell if there’s a problem. Look into your health history for clues and see a doctor if you have symptoms. Your doctor may want to check your neck for thyroid nodules or order blood tests.
The severity of your symptoms and potential cause will dictate the next course of action. There is no official cure for thyroid disease, but with managed care, there are a number of effective treatments that can restore thyroid function.
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