Five Signs Of An Underactive Thyroid

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits low in the front of your neck.  In spite of its small size, it has a powerful effect on your metabolism -- and many other important functions.  Women are eight times as likely as men to have a thyroid disorder, and more than half of people affected by a dysfunctional thyroid don’t even know they have it!

Here are five ways to tell you have hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), which accounts for 80% of thyroid dysfunction.  If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, a simple blood test can screen for thyroid dysfunction, and start you on the road to thyroid health.

Inability to Lose Weight

Because your thyroid controls the rate at which you metabolize the calories you eat, if you have a sluggish thyroid, your body burns less calories than it should.  This can cause sudden, unexpected, unexplained weight gain.  It can also cause overweight patients who have been monitoring and controlling their calorie intake to fail in their weight loss attempts.  If you have gained unexplained weight or failed to lose the expected amount of weight you’ve been trying for, your thyroid might be the culprit!

Irregular Periods

Studies performed by endocrinologists show that 75% of women with thyroid disorders experience menstrual irregularities.  Women with underactive thyroids tend to experience longer periods and more severe PMS symptoms -- which include menstrual cramps, food cravings, breast tenderness and mood swings.  If hypothyroidism goes undiagnosed, women may experience not only menstrual irregularities, but also anemia (because of prolonged menstrual bleeding) and infertility (because of abnormal ovulation and irregular menstrual cycles).

Depression

Your thyroid produces hormones that affect the activity level of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which are crucial to your mood.  If you have an underactive thyroid, the neurotransmitters in your brain may be underactive as well, leading to depression.  And even if you take antidepressants, if your thyroid isn’t working properly, the antidepressants won’t work well (if at all).

Fatigue

When you have hypothyroidism, every function in your body slows down -- which can lead to a slow heart rate, constipation, sluggish thinking, as well as profound levels of fatigue.  Because your thyroid controls your metabolic rate, an underactive thyroid can make you feel more fatigued than usual.  The fatigue caused by hypothyroidism doesn’t resolve with increased amounts of sleep or caffeine intake.  The only way solve thyroid-related fatigue is to have your thyroid disorder diagnosed and appropriately treated.

Thinning Hair

Hypothyroidism can cause a uniform thinning of the hair on your scalp because your hair follicles, which are responsible for producing new hair, are understimulated.  If untreated, hypothyroidism can cause a progressive thinning of your hair.  The good news is that when healthy thyroid function is restored, the hair loss is completely reversible.

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Author
Sarah Thebarge MMSc, PA-C Sarah Thebarge earned her physician assistant degree at Yale School of Medicine, and then studied journalism at Columbia School of Journalism. She has been a physician assistant and a freelance journalist since 2004. In addition to caring for patients at Golden Gate Urgent Care, Sarah frequently volunteers her medical skills in the developing world. Her writing has appeared in Huffington Post, USA Today and National Geographic, and her blog was featured on MSNBC.com. She is the author of the memoir The Invisible Girls and the upcoming book WELL: Healing our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa. She currently lives in the Mission District of San Francisco.

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