Thyroid symptoms: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism

Thyroid symptoms: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism

  • There are two types of thyroid disorders: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
  • Symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, constipation, joint pain, and slow heartbeat.
  • Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include weight loss, anxiety, overheating, and trouble sleeping.
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Thyroid disorders are accompanied by a number of different symptoms, including but not limited to increased/decreased energy,


/gain, and excessive hair loss.

According to American Thyroid Association, 20 million Americans live with thyroid disease and 60% of people with thyroid disease don’t even know they have one.

Therefore, when the thyroid produces too much or too little T3 and T4, your metabolism and temperature may not be regulated properly, triggering side effects.

Much is still unknown about exactly why some people develop thyroid disorders and how these disorders work. Thyroid disorders are more common in womenand while there are many good working theories, more research is still needed to determine exactly why, says Melanie Goldfarbendocrine surgeon and director of the Center for Tumors and Endocrine Disorders of Saint John Cancer Institute.

Here’s how to tell if your thyroid isn’t working properly, what might be causing it, and when to seek a diagnosis.

Symptoms of Thyroid Disorders

There are two main types of thyroid disorders: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

  • An overactive thyroid, also called hyperthyroidism, is often caused by an autoimmune condition called Grave’s disease where the body produces too much T3/T4. “You can feel your heart racing, you’re losing weight or can’t gain weight, you’re losing your hair. You really feel like your body is still running. Even anxiety can result,” says Goldfarb .
  • An underactive thyroid also called hypothyroidism (often a product of Hashimoto’s disease), means that the thyroid is not producing enough hormones. “Your body feels slowed down, you may gain weight, you may feel cold, your fingernails may be brittle. If you think about it, it’s like your body is slowing down,” Goldfarb says.

Other thyroid problems:

  • Thyroid nodules: A growth on the thyroid that usually does not produce hormones. This is usually diagnosed by palpation and then by ultrasound. The majority are benign, but up to 10% can be cancerous.
  • Thyroid Cancer: Although it is not a “disorder” of the thyroid, you can develop thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer is usually spotted when there is a growth on the thyroid which is noticeable and may appear as a bump on the neck. According to Goldfarb, most thyroid cancers are not hereditary and occur sporadically. There’s no annual screening for thyroid cancer, but if you notice a lump on your neck that won’t go away, see a doctor for a diagnosis.

What causes thyroid problems?

Thyroid problems are often caused by autoimmune diseases. Hashimoto’s disease and Grave’s disease are two common autoimmune diseases that cause thyroid dysfunction, Goldfarb says.

There is also some sort of familial association with thyroid disorders. “If your parents had one or more of these autoimmune thyroid conditions, you’re more likely to have thyroid problems,” Goldfarb says.

Risk factors for thyroid problems may include:

  • Type 1 diabetes which is an autoimmune disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Radiation
  • Be a woman
  • Be over 60
  • Too much iodine in your diet
  • Not enough iodine in your diet

How are thyroid disorders diagnosed and treated?

Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are diagnosed with blood tests. A blood panel is ordered that tests your thyroid hormone levels as well as certain antibodies that attack your thyroid gland.

If your thyroid gland produces too much or too little thyroid hormone, medication may be prescribed to supplement your thyroid levels or decrease the amount of hormone in the blood. For overactive thyroids, surgery or radioactive iodine therapy are more permanent solutions.

Thyroid nodules are assessed with a dedicated thyroid ultrasound, followed by a biopsy if the nodule is large and/or suspicious.

If the thyroid biopsy is suspicious or indicative of cancer, surgery is usually required. For large, symptomatic benign nodules (problems swallowing or breathing), treatment is either surgery or radiofrequency ablation of the nodule.

Insider’s Takeaways

Thyroid disorders fall into two categories: an overactive (hyper) or underactive (hypo) thyroid. An underactive thyroid is treated with medication, while an overactive thyroid can be treated with medication, radioactive iodine therapy, or surgery.

Many thyroid conditions are underdiagnosed and therefore outsourced, says Goldfarb. However, many symptoms of hyper or hypothyroidism are nonspecific and overlap with many other conditions.

Therefore, it’s important to have a doctor actually test your thyroid hormones if you think you have thyroid problems.