“Maybe it’s your thyroid.”
You’ve heard that before. Everyone seems to think you’ve got some kind of thyroid condition, but the funny thing is that you’ve never stopped to really consider what that might look like. You don’t even know what a thyroid looks like!
It turns out thyroid conditions are pretty common. In fact, some estimates suggest that somewhere around 200 million people worldwide struggle with thyroid issues.
So… maybe it is your thyroid!
Get to Know Your Thyroid
To fully understand what causes problems in the thyroid gland, it’s useful to talk about what your thyroid really does and how it normally behaves.
Your thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that sits inside your neck, just below your larynx. Typically, you will never even know that it’s there–it’s not something you can see or feel (at least, not when your thyroid is healthy).
Your thyroid is responsible for breaking down iodine from your food, creating essential hormones that help your body function and control your metabolism. That makes your thyroid pretty essential–even if you don’t really notice it’s there.
There are two basic ways that your thyroid can cause problems. Either your thyroid can be too active or not active enough–in either case, you’ll start to notice symptoms.
When Your Thyroid Goes Into Overdrive
A thyroid that’s too active results in a condition called hyperthyroidism. When this occurs, your thyroid generally produces too many of the hormones responsible for regulating your metabolism. The rhythm of your body speeds up. And, look, that might sound like a good thing (you might assume it means you can eat like a teenager again), but this increased metabolism can cause all kinds of problems, such as excess sweating, rapid heartbeat, sudden weight loss, irritability, and more. Your thyroid can even grow enlarged.
Hyperthyroidism can be caused by a wide variety of issues, from Graves’ Disease to thyroiditis. Sometimes it’s genetic or hereditary. It more often tends to appear in women or those with chronic illnesses.
Treatment for overactive thyroid usually includes:
- Radioactive iodine treatment
It can take a couple of months for these treatments to take effect before you start feeling better.
When Your Thyroid Falls Behind
An underactive thyroid, on the other hand, is called hypothyroidism. This means a slower metabolism. Symptoms can include weight gain (or weight stubbornly sticking around no matter how much you exercise or how well you eat), brittle nails, hair loss, or sluggishness. You may also just be generally more tired and fatigued.
The causes of hypothyroidism could include:
- Congenital disease
- Iodine deficiency
- Pituitary disorders
The treatment for hypothyroidism usually includes synthetic hormones. Once you start taking these hormones, you’ll usually start feeling better.
How Do You Know When Your Thyroid is Hyper-or-Under Active?
Thyroid conditions can be challenging to diagnose. They can sometimes pass themselves off as other conditions. So how do you know if you’ve got a thyroid issue? Keep an eye out for these 6 symptoms, and make an appointment with your ENT if you notice them.
- Brain Fog: When your body isn’t creating or using energy efficiently, your nervous system slows down. You can feel fatigued and sluggish–even when it comes to your thinking. Most doctors call this “brain fog,” and it can be a significant symptom of thyroid issues.
- Weight changes: Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can cause changes to your weight. When your thyroid is overactive, you’ll lose weight unexpectedly. When your thyroid is under-active, that weight will stick around. Weight changes may not be inherently good or bad–but an inability to influence your weight can be alarming.
- Heart rate changes: Most people think of “metabolism changes” in terms of weight gain or weight loss, but the rate at which your body turns food into energy (the broad definition of metabolism) can have physical impacts. For example, sudden drops or increases in your heart rate can result when your thyroid causes your metabolism to speed up or slow down.
- Sleep issues: Hyperthyroid issues can make it hard to fall asleep at night–you’ve got too much energy to lay still! Hypothyroidism can make it hard to get out of bed in the morning–you don’t have the energy to wake up! If you’re experiencing either of these, it could be due to thyroid issues.
- Trouble swallowing: There’s only so much room in your neck! A hyperactive thyroid has a tendency to grow. And if your thyroid is growing, it’s likely to cause a little bit of trouble swallowing. That’s because your thyroid may be pressing in on or cramping your esophagus.
- Enlarged neck: Of course, in some cases, your neck makes room. In these cases, you may notice a growing lump on your neck. We tend to call this kind of growth a goiter. And that goiter can be a sign of an enlarged thyroid. If you notice this, you should talk to your ENT as soon as you can.
Thyroid Conditions are Very Treatable
You want your thyroid gland to function as normally as possible. That way, your body gets rid of iodine–and you get the metabolism-regulating hormones you need. But if something’s wrong, an Ear-Nose-and-Throat doctor (or ENT) will likely be able to help you find a solution. Most thyroid conditions can be managed and treated–meaning you’ll quickly see symptom relief.
So, yeah, maybe it is your thyroid. That doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.
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