Tired all the time? Your thyroid gland could be out of whack

November 11, 2016 | by Samir Undevia, MD

Are you feeling colder than usual, getting tired more easily or dealing with drier-than-normal skin? These are all symptoms of hypothyroidism. Almost 5 out of 100 Americans have hypothyroidism. It’s a common medical condition yet millions of people are currently hypothyroid and don’t know it.

The thyroid gland — the small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck — releases hormones that control your metabolism and the way your body uses energy. Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone to meet your body’s needs.

When your thyroid hormone levels are too low, your body starts slowing down. Symptoms of hypothyroidism are often subtle and not specific, and may include:

  • A decreased appetite
  • Dry skin, hair loss
  • Sleepiness
  • Muscle pain or joint pain
  • Depression
  • Mood changes, mental impairment or forgetfulness
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision, decreased hearing
  • Fullness in the throat, hoarseness

Undiagnosed thyroid disease may put you at risk for cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and infertility. Your doctor can check for hypothyroidism by performing a physical exam, ordering a blood test or using an imaging scan.

Although hypothyroidism is common in the United States, thyroid cancer is extremely rare. Hypothyroidism increases cancer risk, along with exposure to radiation, taking certain medications and having a family history of thyroid disease. Also, thyroid cancer tends to develop more in women than men.

A thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is also associated with increased cancer risk. The most common cause of hypothyroidism, this autoimmune disease prevents your thyroid from working properly by attacking healthy tissue in your thyroid gland.

Developing slowly over several years, Hashimoto’s causes very few symptoms, if any at all. You may notice:

  •  A feeling of fullness in the throat
  • Painless thyroid enlargement
  • Exhaustion
  • Transient neck pain, sore throat or both

Diagnosing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis early is important so treatment can begin as soon as possible. With proper treatment, you and your physician can work to restore thyroid hormone levels and reverse the symptoms of hypothyroidism.

Wondering if you have a thyroid disorder? Find a healthy driven doctor.

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