Thyroid disease is a general medical term that covers any thyroid-affecting disorder. About 20 million adults in the United States have some form of thyroid disease, and as many as three in five (60%) are unaware of their condition. Why? The multitude of non-specific symptoms that thyroid disease can cause are often dismissed or mistaken for other health issues.
At Stuart Lerner, MD in Kailua, Hawaii, integrative medicine specialist Dr. Lerner and our expert team of board-certified providers can help you get to the bottom of non-specific symptoms like unusual changes in energy, weight, and mood.
Here, we discuss how normal thyroid function supports optimal health, explore five general health changes that suggest you may have a thyroid disorder, and explain why it’s important to have a thyroid function test when you notice these non-specific symptoms.
Small and mighty: Understanding your thyroid
Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located along your windpipe at the front of your neck. It makes and releases vital hormones that control your metabolism, or the complex process of how your body uses energy. This, in turn, affects the function of virtually every system and organ in your body.
Your thyroid needs iodine — a natural element found in food, commonly iodized table salt — to produce its metabolism-regulating hormones. The two main hormones it creates are thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
While your thyroid produces more T4 than T3, once it’s released into your bloodstream, your body can convert T4 into T3. This is important, because T3 is the thyroid hormone that has the greatest effect on your metabolism. Your thyroid hormones control or influence the following bodily functions:
- Heart rate and blood pressure
- Digestion process; cholesterol levels
- Respiration and body temperature
- Cognitive activity and mood regulation
- Skin and bone tissue maintenance
- Sex hormone production and fertility
Most importantly, thyroid hormones control your metabolism, which means they have a direct and ongoing influence over your body weight as well as your energy levels.
Symptoms that may indicate a thyroid disorder
If your thyroid gland isn’t working properly, or if the two glands in your brain that control it — your pituitary gland and hypothalamus — aren’t functioning normally, it can’t maintain a steady output of thyroid hormones.
Thyroid disorders fall into two general categories: those that cause the gland to release too much thyroid hormone, and those that cause it to secrete too little thyroid hormone.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone, causing your body systems to speed up; hypothyroidism develops when the gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, causing your body systems to slow down.
Either condition can lead to a wide range of non-specific symptoms — or physical, mental, or emotional changes that emerge slowly and are easily mistaken for other health issues. Signs that can indicate a possible thyroid disorder include:
1. Energy level changes
Ongoing, unexplained fatigue and easy energy depletion are common signs of an underactive thyroid. Likewise, an overactive thyroid is associated with chronic sleep difficulties, including insomnia, and associated daytime fatigue and low energy.
2. Body weight changes
Unexplained weight gain and difficulty losing weight are frequent effects of the slowing body systems and sluggish metabolism that occur with hypothyroidism. The sped-up body systems and increased metabolic rate of hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, often cause unexpected weight loss — despite also causing a greater appetite at the same time.
3. Mood or cognitive changes
An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) is associated with forgetfulness, general “brain fog,” low mood, and depression, while an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can trigger irritability, nervousness, and anxiety.
In older adults, however, hyperthyroidism can have the opposite effect: It’s sometimes mistaken for dementia or depression — or the forgetfulness and low mood symptoms that usually occur with hypothyroidism.
4. Temperature sensitivity
An overactive thyroid can cause you to sweat more than normal and make you more sensitive to hot weather, humidity, and high temperatures, while an underactive thyroid can leave you feeling less tolerant of freezing temperatures and cold, windy weather.
5. Menstrual period changes
Women are up to eight times more likely than men to have a thyroid disorder, especially right after pregnancy. For women who haven’t yet reached menopause, an underactive thyroid can cause heavier or more frequent periods, while an overactive thyroid can lead to irregular or missed periods, or cause the menstrual cycle to stop.
Expert, comprehensive care for thyroid issues
Joint pain, muscle weakness, dry skin, coarse, thinning hair, bowel movement changes, and resting pulse rate changes are other common warning signs of a possible thyroid issue.
If you’re experiencing any “non-specific symptoms” — particularly if fatigue issues and body weight changes are present — schedule a visit with our team as soon as possible. Our approach to thyroid function testing goes beyond standard TSH testing to specifically check your blood levels of T4 and free T3, two important markers of thyroid problems.
Do you have concerns about thyroid function? We can help. Call or click online to schedule a visit at Stuart Lerner, MD in Kailua, Hawaii today.