When should you seek medical advice?

Hypothyroidism, while common, can disguise itself under a variety of symptoms that appear to be everyday aches, pains and discomfort. As a result, many people who suffer from low levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) will proceed with life, dismissing a combination of symptoms that are actually indicators of a serious problem that should be addressed by a medical professional. If your thyroid is underperfoming, signals can manifest in a range of the following symptoms:1

Sluggishness and fatigue

Feeling run down, worn out or fatigued are among the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism. It may seem that regardless of how early you get to bed, or how much sleep you get, you’re still tired all the time. If you’re starting the habit of taking naps in the middle of the day, or perpetually increasing your caffeine intake to make up for your perennial exhaustion, these might be indicators of hypothyroidism.

This feeling of ongoing tiredness comes from lower levels of TSH being released into your body by your thyroid gland. TSH impacts and controls the metabolism and growth of nearly every part of the human body. Low levels of TSH can lead to the feeling of physical exhaustion as well as decreased motivation. If you find yourself sleeping more than usual and even the extra sleep doesn’t seem to give you any relief or help you feel refreshed, this could be an indicator that you have symptoms of hypothyroidism.

Weight gain

One of the first noticeable symptoms of hypothyroidism is abnormal or unusual weight gain — This can happen even when your activity levels and food intake have remained constant. When the thyroid is releasing lower levels of TSH, your metabolic rate slows down and your liver, muscles and fat tissue receive signals to store calories as fat instead of burning them. This can result in weight gain even if you’re eating the same amount of calories, and can make it more challenging to lose weight even if you’re eating less and exercising more.

Muscle weakness and/or achy joints

When your TSH production is low, your body resorts to burning and breaking down muscle tissue for energy instead of burning fat. This will cause a decrease in your muscle strength and eventually, feelings of weakness, aches or cramps. If you’re experiencing significant tenderness and/or stiffness in your muscles along with any other symptoms mentioned here, it could be a sign that you’re experiencing hypothyroidism.

Inability to concentrate and/or memory concerns

It’s been studied that individuals who suffer from untreated hypothyroidism can experience symptoms that mimic those of mild dementia. Don’t panic — if these symptoms are the result of a thyroid disorder, they can be easily treated with daily hormone replacement therapy prescribed by your doctor. But if you’re experiencing other hypothyroid symptoms on top of poor memory, impaired or foggy reasoning and judgment, difficulty with verbal expression or a hard time staying focused, it might be wise to consult your doctor.

Feeling nervous, irritable or depressed

Mood changes, unexplained emotional angst and depression are among the more discreet symptoms of hypothyroidism. You may be quick to dismiss these symptoms as psychological instead of physical, however, these can all be indicators of an underperforming thyroid. Although the reasons for the link between hypothyroidism and depression are unclear, it is thought that it’s a possible mental symptom of a general decline in energy and health. If you’re feeling unusually down, sad or depressed, speaking with a counselor or physician is a good idea, whether the cause is thyroid function or something different.

Feeling cold

Your body heat can be lowered as a result of your slowed metabolism, stemming from hypothyroidism. It’s not uncommon to become increasingly intolerant of colder temperatures and feel as though you can never seem to get warm; When your body isn’t producing regular levels of TSH, your heat production slows down and you feel cold as a result. Since body heat results from the burning of calories, and hypothyroidism reduces the rate at which calories are burned, this causes your body temperature to decrease and also explains the weight gain previously discussed as a possible symptom.

Abnormal hair loss and/or brittle hair

If you find that your hair seems to be getting thinner, more fine or even dry and brittle, this could be an indication that your body is not producing enough TSH. Hair follicles are more sensitive to low thyroid levels than other tissue, due to their short lifespans and quick turnover. Decreased TSH can cause a reduction in the regeneration of rapidly growing cells like hair follicles, leading to a change in the texture of hair or even hair loss.

Sensitive and/or dry skin

Does your skin seem to be getting dry, itchy, flaky or more sensitive? Similar to hair follicles, skin cells reproduce rapidly and are significantly impacted by a reduction in TSH production. This can cause a break in the skin cell renewal process and lead to an accumulation of dead skin cells, which manifests as a layer of flaky, dry skin. If you haven’t started to use any new skin care products or cosmetics lately, and you can’t pinpoint allergies as a cause of changes in your skin’s texture and appearance, hypothyroidism might be the culprit.

Constipation

Similar to how hypothyroidism slows other bodily processes, it also has an impact on your digestive tract and can make it difficult to go to the bathroom. Of course, constipation alone does not indicate an underperforming thyroid, but if you’re drinking enough water, getting enough fiber in your diet, exercising regularly and still having three or fewer bowel movements a week (or it’s painful and unproductive when you try) and these symptoms are coupled with others in the list, your constipation might be another symptom of a low functioning thyroid.

Heavy or more frequent menstrual periods

It seems like your thyroid function can affect nearly every aspect of your body, and guess what? It can impact your menstrual cycles too. When your thyroid is producing too little TSH, your ovaries decrease their production of progesterone, another hormone that helps decrease menstrual flow. If you’re experiencing menstrual periods that are lasting longer and/or have a heavier flow than usual, coupled with more painful cramps and other symptoms discussed, this could be a sign that your thyroid function isn’t where it should be, and you should consult your healthcare provider.

References

  1. American Thyroid Association. Hypothyroidism: A Booklet for Patients and Their Families. https://www.thyroid.org/wp-content/uploads/patients/brochures/Hypothyroidism_web_booklet.pdf. Accessed March 27, 2019.