What are the telltale signs of an underactive thyroid, a chronic condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones for your body’s needs? Symptoms can range from a lack of energy to progressive weight gain, although it’s important to emphasize that these particular symptoms could also be related to a number of different health issues or simply be a sign that you need more quality rest.
So how do you recognize that your thyroid gland is causing your health problems? Thyroid hormones are directly responsible for how your body uses and stores energy. When your levels are low, your metabolism slows down, which affects almost every organ in your body and this can be caused by anything from thyroid gland damage, autoimmune disorders, and lifestyle factors.
If you’re worried you might have thyroid problems, be sure to read on. But a word of warning: don’t go through this list, identify the symptoms, and come to your own conclusion. If you think you may be showing signs of an underactive thyroid, you should seek the help of a medical professional who can provide a diagnosis.
Dr. Rebecca Breslow is a physician, researcher, and writer. A graduate of Yale University, she completed her medical training at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Boston Children’s Hospital. She was a practicing physician in academic medicine for 17 years, during which time she authored numerous publications for academic and lay audiences. Currently, she focuses on freelance medical writing and editing to help make medical, health and wellness information accessible to a wide audience.
you have a hard time losing weight
There are many reasons why you may have trouble losing weight. You may not be exercising enough or eating too much calories. Maybe you are suffering from poor sleep or some of your medications are interfering with your metabolism.
If your struggle is difficult to explain, you’ll want to rule out hypothyroidism. A problem with weight maintenance is one of the most common signs of an underactive thyroid and there are clear reasons for it.
As mentioned above, thyroid hormones regulate how your body uses and stores energy. According to a review in Physiological reviews (opens in a new tab)Reduced levels of thyroid hormones are associated with a slower metabolism, which reduces resting energy expenditure (the number of calories burned at rest) and can lead to weight gain.
Thyroid hormones also help regulate appetite, according to a study from the Thyroid Research Journal (opens in a new tab)so an underactive thyroid can make you feel hungrier, even if you don’t need to eat more food.
you are tired all the time
Fatigue is a very broad symptom and can indicate many different health problems. It can be a direct result of chronic stress, lack of sleep, certain medications, and physical exertion, but rest usually helps rejuvenate you.
However, if your tiredness doesn’t seem to have a plausible explanation and a good night’s sleep makes little difference to your energy levels, it may be a sign of hormonal problems.
In fact, fatigue is considered to be one of the main signs of an underactive thyroid. In a study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology (opens in a new tab)fatigue was reported as a symptom in 52% of adult patients and 31% of pediatric patients.
Why is that the case? As mentioned above, thyroid hormones are directly responsible for energy metabolism. With a low metabolism, your body will try to conserve as much energy as possible.
you can’t stand the cold
Have you been more sensitive to low temperatures recently? Having trouble tolerating cold is another sign of hypothyroidism. Your body is quite adept at regulating its temperature. Every time it detects that the temperature is dropping, it burns more calories to generate heat.
Most of the time, it is an ongoing process that is barely noticeable on a daily basis. But when your thyroid hormones don’t work the way they should and your metabolism slows down, your ability to stay warm decreases as well. According to a study in Journal of General Internal Medicine (opens in a new tab)approximately 40% of people with hypothyroidism feel more sensitive to cold than before.
Your muscles and joints ache
Muscles and joints will ache for various reasons. According to an article in the american family doctor (opens in a new tab) journal, muscle problems can be due to a number of infectious, neurological, inflammatory, rheumatological, genetic, metabolic, electrolyte-induced, or drug-induced causes. But if everything seems fine, but you find yourself struggling with aches and pains, you may need to get your thyroid hormones checked.
But why? People with hypothyroidism have an altered metabolism that is geared more toward catabolism than anabolism. Catabolism is a state where muscle tissue is broken down for energy, while anabolism helps you gain muscle. With low levels of thyroid hormone, your muscle mass and strength can decrease, leading to feelings of pain and weakness.
You have dry skin and weakened hair.
Dry skin and thinning or dry hair are other signs of an underactive thyroid. Like any other cell in the body, the growth and metabolism of hair follicles and skin cells are regulated by thyroid hormones.
A study published in International Journal of Trichology (opens in a new tab) reported differential levels of thyroid dysfunction in different types of alopecia, and also showed that the prevalence of thyroid dysfunction in patients with alopecia increased with age.
Likewise, when skin cells aren’t replenished often enough, dead skin cells don’t shed like they normally would. This buildup of damaged skin can lead to a dry, scaly appearance.
You have heavy or irregular menstrual periods.
Changes in the menstrual cycle can occur for many different reasons. While some may be relatively harmless and related to lifestyle factors such as stress, diet, travel, or changes in body weight, others signify serious health problems.
In fact, heavy and/or irregular menstrual periods are one of the signs of an underactive thyroid. That’s because thyroid hormones are linked to the functioning of the reproductive system.
The complex interplay between different hormones helps regulate the menstrual cycle and ensures that the ovaries and uterus function properly. According to a review published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (opens in a new tab)Women with hypothyroidism tend to experience heavier and more irregular periods.
You struggle with a low mood
One of the less apparent signs of an underactive thyroid is depression. However, it is worth noting that of all the symptoms mentioned so far, this may be the least clear.
Scientists are still not sure if there is a direct link between hypothyroidism and mood disorders. According to a meta-analysis published in JAMA Psychiatry (opens in a new tab), the link between hypothyroidism and depression is not as strong as previously assumed, and may be more pronounced in women than in men. Other meta-analysis (opens in a new tab) published in Translational Psychiatry found that hypothyroidism may be related to mood disorders in younger patients, but not in older ones. He also showed that thyroid hormone replacement therapy does not appear to improve symptoms of depression.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer medical advice.