It's hard to tell if you have thyroid abnormalities. You might feel run down and tired, or have what is known as "brain fog." You may be gaining weight, pregnant, or experiencing hair loss. Others may feel "hyper," anxious, or sweat a lot more than usual. All of these are common symptoms of thyroid disorders. The thyroid gland regulates many processes within the body, and women are particularly likely to have disorders that affect the function of this essential gland. Recognizing and treating these conditions is critical for optimum health and preventing long-term health problems.
What Is the Thyroid Gland?
The thyroid gland is located in front of the neck. It has right and left lobes that confer a butterfly-shaped appearance. The hormones produced by this gland control the body’s metabolism, or the processes by which the body uses energy. Disorders that affect thyroid function can either speed up or slow down metabolic processes, which can lead to a wide range of symptoms.
Symptom: Losing or Gaining Weight
Changes in weight can signal an abnormal function of the thyroid gland. Low levels of
thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) can cause weight gain, while unexpected weight loss can signal that too many thyroid hormones are being produced (hyperthyroidism). Hypothyroidism is much more common than hyperthyroidism.
Symptom: Swollen Neck
A goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland, As shown here; an enlarged thyroid can be seen as a swelling in the front of the neck. A goiter can occur both as a result of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. It can sometimes also result from tumors or nodules that develop within the thyroid gland.
Symptom: Changes in Heart Rate
The hormones made in the thyroid gland affect almost every organ in the body, including the heart. Hypothyroidism can cause the heart to beat more slowly while hyperthyroidism causes a fast heartbeat. Elevated levels of thyroid hormones also can lead to increases in blood pressure and the sense that your heart is pounding (palpitations).
Symptom: Hair Loss
Hair loss is a common sign of a thyroid problem. Both too high and too low levels of thyroid hormones can lead to hair loss. The hair typically grows back once the condition is treated.
Menopause or Thyroid Disorder?
Thyroid disorders can cause symptoms that are mistaken for those of a woman approaching menopause. Both menstrual cycle changes and mood changes can result from the menopausal transition or from thyroid conditions. Blood tests can determine which of these conditions is responsible for your symptoms. It's also possible to have a combination of the two causes.
Checking the Thyroid and Neck
Examining your neck in the area of the Adam's apple while you swallow can sometimes show if your thyroid is enlarged. Swallow while tipping the head back, and examine your neck and the area above the collarbones. If you see any lumps or bulges, see a doctor.
Treatment for hypothyroidism usually involves taking thyroid hormones in pill form. Symptoms usually improve within a few weeks of beginning therapy. Most of those affected will have to take the thyroid hormones throughout their life. Over time, treatment can result in weight loss, increased energy, and lowering of cholesterol levels.