During your younger years, you probably didn’t give your thyroid much thought. After all, you had exams, football and first dates to worry about. Now, however, you may be wondering if your constant fatigue or sore throat may have something to do with that tiny gland in your neck. Depending on your symptoms and history, your suspicions may be correct.
Your thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate your metabolism and many other bodily functions. If something throws your thyroid out of whack, it can affect your hormone levels and, with them, the way your entire body functions.
Here are some of the most common thyroid conditions and warning signs that may indicate a hormone imbalance in your body.
Eating anything you want while simultaneously losing weight sounds like a dream, but it’s a reality for those living with hyperthyroidism. Don’t let this one symptom leave you yearning for hyperthyroidism, though. An overactive thyroid can also cause irritability, heart palpitations, tremors, sweating, muscle weakness and a slew of other debilitating symptoms.
Without treatment, this condition can have severe complications. However, a variety of medications is typically effective in reducing thyroid hormone production and minimizing symptoms. If medication and other treatments aren’t possible, you may require surgery to remove part of the thyroid.
2. Grave’s Disease
More than 70% of those with hyperthyroidism also have Grave’s disease, making it the most common cause of an overactive thyroid. This condition tends to run in the family, so if you suspect you may have this disease, you should ask your parents about your genetic history. However, certain factors, including pregnancy, stress and smoking, may put you at higher risk of developing Grave’s disease.
Keep an eye out for common symptoms, including bulging eyes, fatigue, an erratic menstrual cycle, insomnia and diarrhea. While there’s no cure for the disease, there are treatments for its symptoms. Thus, if you receive a diagnosis, there’s still hope of normal-sized eyes and a good night’s sleep.
3. Thyroid Nodules
If you notice bulges in your neck, you may be experiencing thyroid nodules. It’s unclear why these lumps develop, but they’re often symptomatic of both underactive and overactive thyroid glands. Alternatively, they may form on their own and affect the thyroid’s regular function, thereby causing hyperthyroidism.
Typically, thyroid nodules are benign or noncancerous. Still, about 5% of them develop cancer, although it may be several years before yours does. If you received radiation treatment to your head or neck when you were younger and begin to notice thyroid nodules, consider seeing your doctor. This would put you at higher risk of developing nodular cancer.
Where did that double chin come from? If you notice some extra bulge in your neck, you may have a goiter. A goiter is a noncancerous enlargement of the thyroid gland that often signals iodine deficiency. Between 200 million and 800 million people develop goiters because of this dietary deficiency.
In the U.S., however, a goiter is usually a sign of hyperthyroidism. While family history can predispose you to develop a goiter, pregnancy, medication usage, radiation exposure and being older than 40 can also increase your risk. Symptoms include swelling in the neck, wheezing, hoarseness and trouble swallowing and breathing. The unattractive bulge is treatable, so visit your doctor at the first sign of swelling.
As the days grow shorter and snowy, gray clouds block the sunshine, you may wonder if you’re experiencing seasonal affective disorder or even bouts of depression. While these symptoms may indicate a mental health issue, they might also signal hypothyroidism. This thyroid condition is the exact opposite of hyperthyroidism, meaning the gland is underactive and unable to produce enough hormones. This condition can also cause constipation, weight gain, slow heart rate and dry skin.
Unfortunately, hypothyroidism is a lifelong condition as there isn’t a cure. However, medication may alleviate symptoms by returning adequate levels of hormones to your blood. You might also find some relief in glandular extracts, which you can find at health food stores. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate these products, though, so use them at your own risk. Additionally, be sure to tell your doctor if you take these supplements so they can adjust your medication and treatment.
6. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Have you missed a few periods lately? If that pregnancy test comes back negative, you may have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This thyroid condition affects more women than men and can lead to irregular menstrual cycles or heavy periods. Hashimoto’s disease is also one of the most common triggers of hypothyroidism, causing the immune system to attack your thyroid gland and prevent it from creating enough hormones.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can manifest in numerous ways, which can lead to a misdiagnosis. Some conditions that you may confuse with this condition are depression, fibromyalgia, PMS, anxiety and chronic fatigue. Therefore, it’s important to visit your doctor and mention a history of thyroid problems or your suspicions of hypothyroidism during your appointment.
Living With Thyroid Conditions
In most cases, there isn’t a cure for underlying causes of thyroid conditions, regardless of whether your glands are overactive or underactive. However, different treatments can alleviate symptoms. From antithyroid drugs to beta-blockers to surgery, there’s an effective treatment method out there for you. You may even find relief in changing your salt intake and making wiser dietary choices.
Regardless of how you treat your thyroid condition, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor regularly. This way, they can continually assess your glands and ensure you’re living your best life despite your condition.