Your thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland that sits just below the Adam’s apple, is a pretty powerful organ. It’s responsible for many bodily functions, including keeping your heart and brain working to help your body regulate energy. And if you’re a woman, you’re up to 10 times more likely than men to have issues with your thyroid.
The two most common thyroid problems are related to the production of those hormones: Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, occurs because your thyroid can’t make enough of its hormone to keep the body going as it normally does. On the flip side, an overactive thyroid–hyperthyroidism–produces too much hormone. Fortunately, “once you’re diagnosed and start treatment, many of these symptoms can be reversed,” says Rachel Bier, MD, an endocrinologist at Endocrinology Consultants in Englewood, NJ.
While not one single health issue is a sure sign of a thyroid problem, always see your doctor if you ever experience any of the following symptoms linked to hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
You’re gaining weight for no reason
Unexplained weight gain is a classic sign of hypothyroidism. Your appetite might have increased, but it’s not like you’ve changed habits so much that you should be gaining weight.
Because your metabolism is slower, your body’s accumulating fluid. Salt may also be pushing that weight up. How much weight gain is expected? Generally about five to 10 pounds, depending on how severe your condition is, according to the American Thyroid Association.
You’re exhausted beyond belief
Many things in life can make you tired, but the fatigue you feel with hypothyroidism goes beyond what you experience after having one or even a few nights of bad sleep.
Here’s the kicker, though: You’re not only tired, but your movements, speech, reflexes, even your heart rate can be slower. You may also be at risk of sleep apnea, which can severely disrupt your snooze routine.
Your hair is changing
Don’t be surprised if your hair starts to feel or look a little different. “As a result of hypothyroidism, your hair could change texture,” Dr. Bier says. It might become dryer and more brittle, making it prone to breakage or hair loss. And while this is a rare occurrence, some people can lose their eyebrow hair, generally about a third of it.
When you have hypothyroidism, all of your bodily functions slow, including the digestion and elimination of food. You get constipated either because your body’s absorbing too much water from food or your colon just isn’t contracting as it should. In both situations, your stool moves too slowly, Dr. Bier says. If the constipation is chronic, you could even suffer from issues like hemorrhoids.
Your periods are longer and heavier
It’s well documented that thyroid disease can affect your menstrual cycle, and even affect fertility. In the case of hypothyroidism, the thyroid hormone being in short supply means that you could have a longer cycle and heavier flows, Dr. Bier says. Your periods might even come closer together, and you might have more cramps.
You have trouble focusing
Feel like you’re battling brain fog more often than not? Difficulty concentrating or having memory problems are often reported among people who have hypothyroidism.
You have unexplained aches and pains
Getting sore and achy after doing a new workout or engaging in strenuous activity is one thing. But the aches and pains, even tingling, you feel as a result of hypothyroidism seem to come out of nowhere, and they’re most common in your joints, Dr. Bier says.
You’re losing weight without trying
You’re the envy of friends because you’re losing weight even though you haven’t changed anything with your workouts or diet. If anything, you may feel so hungry that you’re eating all the time so what gives?
One cause of unexplained weight loss may be that overactive thyroid. The more severe your hyperthyroidism is, the more weight you may lose, according to the American Thyroid Association. “The weight loss may range from being not noticeable to substantial, like 20 pounds,” Dr. Pekkah-Pollack says. Of course, not everybody loses weight, and some people may even gain weight, depending on how many more calories they’re eating every day.
You’re pooping more than normal
With too much thyroid hormone in your system, your body’s processes speed up, including your digestion. “With hyperthyroidism, you have increased metabolic rate and gut motility, which results in increased frequency of bowel movements,” Dr. Pessah-Pollack says. You might even have diarrhea.
You’re not sleeping well
If you have hyperthyroidism, you may have so much thyroid hormone surging through your body that you’re almost too stimulated to sleep. Experiencing hot flashes and digestive issues can also disrupt sleep. “It’s often incredibly tough to fall asleep or stay asleep,” Dr. Bier says. Consider one of these natural sleep aids to help you snooze better at night.