25 Health Problems That Start With Your Thyroid
This gland is small, but mighty.
Though the thyroid gland is small, it needs to function properly in order for the body to perform basic functions. Located in the neck, the thyroid secretes hormones that assist in the regulation of everything from your heart to your reproductive organs—and with too much or too little of these thyroid hormones, it's almost impossible to stay healthy.
The sad reality is many people in America suffer from thyroid disease. According the American Thyroid Association, more than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. Many of the health problems associated with thyroid disorders are easy to overlook or blame on something else, but it's important to consider this small gland. Here, we've rounded up some medical complications that might be stemming from your thyroid.
If you experience irregular periods with no known explanation, you should ask your doctor to check your thyroid hormone levels. According to the U.S. Department of Health's Office on Women's Health, having too much or too little thyroid hormone can result in unusually light, unusually heavy, or irregular periods, seeing as your thyroid assists in the regulation of your menstrual cycle.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Though the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have long been unknown, researchers recently discovered a link between the debilitating condition and lower levels of certain thyroid hormones. In one study published in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology, scientists concluded that patients diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome had lower levels of two key thyroid hormones—triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)—compared to those without the sleep-related syndrome. The researchers believe that these decreased hormone levels could be contributing to CFS symptoms.
For years, doctors haven't been able to explain to their patients why they're dealing with anxiety disorders that don't get better with treatment—until now, that is. According to one study published in May in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, there is a strong link between anxiety disorders and autoimmune thyroiditis (AIT), which is also known as Hashimoto's thyroiditis. It makes sense, since inflammation of the thyroid gland messes with the body's hormones and in turn, can cause mental instability.
In the same JAMA Psychiatry study, researchers found that the same mechanisms that cause patients with autoimmune thyroiditis to develop anxiety disorders can also lead to depression. In fact, the numbers showed that people with autoimmune thyroiditis are approximately 3.5 times more likely to suffer from depression as a result of their condition.
Your heart plays a vital part in controlling the health of every other organ in your body, so it's important that you take good care of it. One easy way to protect your heart is by paying attention to the levels of the thyroid hormone called free thyroxine, or FT4, in your bloodstream. One study published in the journal Circulation found that having unusually high levels of FT4 could be a risk factor for atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat.
For many women, infertility issues stem from thyroid issues. Since the thyroid is so closely connected to the distribution of sex hormones, any irregularities in your thyroid hormone levels can result in issues with ovulation and, thusly, getting pregnant.
Hypothyroidism—which is an underactive thyroid that doesn't produce enough hormones—can cause dry skin. "Other skin changes can be seen at times, such as decreased sweating and coarse skin. These symptoms all occur when the regulatory hormones produced by the thyroid decrease or disappear," Matilda Nicholas, MD, PhD, a dermatologist at Duke Health explained to Everyday Health. Dry skin in patients with hypothyroidism is very common—one study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology found that a whopping 100 percent of patients with hypothyroidism experienced it.
For many people suffering from thyroid issues, one of the first signs that something is amiss is unexplained weight gain. That's because, according to the American Thyroid Association, thyroid hormones play a major role in the regulation of metabolic rates. Both low and high levels of thyroid hormones can mess with BMR, or the state of your metabolism when at rest.
According to Harvard Health, hypothyroidism can also lead to constipation. However, since bowel movement issues are indicative of so many other health problems, people far too often miss the relationship between their thyroid and bowels.
Research published in the journal Thyroid concluded that "hypothyroidism in adults causes significant reduction in the volume of the right hippocampus." This is significant because the hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for short- and long-term memory. Therefore, a reduction in volume of this area is associated with debilitating memory issues.
High Blood Sugar
Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, and hypothyroidism go hand-in-hand. When Indian researchers studied hemoglobin A1c levels (HBA1c) in diabetics, they found that those who also had hypothyroidism had higher levels of the protein associated with high blood sugar. But there is a silver lining to this news: When the researchers treated the diabetic patients with thyroid hormone replacement, they found that their HBA1c levels dropped significantly.
Anemia is a condition in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells in the body available for transporting oxygen to the body's tissues. There are many causes of anemia, including profuse bleeding and iron deficiency. But recently, researchers concluded that abnormal thyroid hormone levels can potentially cause anemia as well.
High Blood Pressure
According to the American Thyroid Association, hyperthyroidism—which is an overactive thyroid that produces too much of the hormone thyroxine—can result in many heart health problems, one of which is hypertension (AKA high blood pressure). Ignoring this issue can result in everything from strokes to blood clots. And if you're worried about your ticker, then try snacking on some of the 40 Heart Foods To Eat After 40.
In serious cases, the heart problems associated with hyperthyroidism can lead to heart failure and, ultimately, death. On the bright side, though, studies show that the risk of heart failure decreases significantly when patients with hyperthyroidism are actively treating their condition. That's just another reason why any potential thyroid problems should never go neglected!
The American Thyroid Association reports that hyperthyroidism, as well as the medications that treat the condition, can mess with the liver's ability to do its job. When antithyroid medications negatively affect the liver, alternative treatments, like radioactive iodine therapy and surgery, come into play to avoid further damage.
Thyroid problems are just as dangerous to the outside of your body as they are to the inside. One meta-analysis of more than 70,000 subjects published in JAMA concluded that even mild cases of hyperthyroidism can put people more at risk for hip, spine, and other fractures.
When researchers from the American Society of Nephrology studied patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD), they found that the lower a person's kidney function was, the higher their risk for subclinical hypothyroidism was. In fact, the study, published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, concluded that patients with CKD were 73 percent more likely than healthy individuals to have hypothyroidism, thus showing a solid link between kidney disease and thyroid issues.
Often times an underactive thyroid will also result in moodiness. That's because hypothyroidism affects the thalamus, the part of the brain responsible for processing information, and thusly, that affects emotions.
One of the many causes of secondary generalized hyperhidrosis—or excessive sweating on large areas of the body—is an overactive thyroid. While this condition isn't life-threatening, it is quite uncomfortable, and people who suffer from it tend to seek out treatment just to relieve their discomfort.
If you notice swelling on your neck, that could be a sign of a thyroid problem. A goiter, as pictured above, is an abnormal enlargement of your thyroid gland that can be visible at the base of your neck. Though goiters are usually painless, they can also cause breathing issues and swallowing problems. So you need to treat the underlying cause of the thyroid problem that's resulting in the goiter.
If you know someone with an underactive thyroid, make sure they don't go outside in the winter without the proper cold weather gear. According to the Cleveland Clinic, one of the side effects and symptoms of having hypothyroidism is an intolerance to cold.
One of the many diseases caused by hyperthyroidism is hyperthyroid myopathy. This disease is characterized by muscle weakness, slowed-down reflexes, and painful cramps. It most commonly affects the muscles around the shoulders and the hips.
The same antibodies that attack the thyroid gland in Graves' disease—an autoimmune problem that leads to hyperthyroidism—can also attack eye tissue and cause everything from swelling to vision loss. According to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, there are three times as many women than men suffering from thyroid-related eye disorders, and these issues tend to occur around the age of 45.
When hyperthyroidism goes untreated, it can lead to osteoporosis, a condition that thins out the bones and makes them more vulnerable to injuries and breaks. In severe cases, people with osteoporosis have such weak bones that even coughing can crack a rib.
Because thyroid issues mess with the metabolism, many individuals who don't produce the right amount of thyroid hormones end up becoming obese. That can, in turn, lead to issues related to obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease.
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