Thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause a wide variety of symptoms that affect your energy, mood, weight, and overall health. Getting the right testing and treatment is important to manage symptoms and feel your best.
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of the neck that has an enormous impact on our overall health and wellbeing. It produces thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism – everything from heart rate and body temperature to mood and energy levels.
When the thyroid isn’t functioning properly, it can cause widespread symptoms that are often chalked up to other causes. Thyroid disorders are more common than most people realize, affecting around 20 million Americans, estimates the American Thyroid Association. Understanding the signs of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism is important for getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
This article will explore the many ways thyroid problems make you feel so you can take control of your health. We’ll cover the most common symptoms of too much or too little thyroid hormone, what causes thyroid dysfunction, getting properly tested and treated, and lifestyle changes to feel your best.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism, also called underactive thyroid, is the condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Low levels of T4 and T3 hormones slow down metabolism and can create an array of symptoms:
- Fatigue – Feeling exhausted all the time is a classic hypothyroidism symptom. You may sleep 10+ hours a night and still wake up feeling drained.
- Weight gain – Gaining weight easily and difficulty losing weight are very common in hypothyroidism due to the slower metabolism.
- Depression – Low thyroid hormone leads to lower serotonin levels, which can cause depression and sadness.
- Brain fog – Trouble concentrating, poor memory, and fuzzy thinking make daily tasks a struggle.
- Muscle and joint pain – Hypothyroidism reduces blood flow to muscles and joints, resulting in aches, pains, cramps, and stiffness.
- Constipation – Slowed motility of the digestive tract frequently leads to constipation.
- Sensitivity to cold – Low thyroid hormone causes reduced blood flow to the extremities, making you constantly feel chilled.
- Slowed heart rate – Hypothyroidism commonly causes bradycardia or low heart rate.
- Dry, thinning hair – Hair follicles are very sensitive to thyroid hormone fluctuations, often resulting in brittle, thinning hair.
- Irregular or heavy periods – Hormonal shifts from hypothyroidism commonly cause abnormal menstrual cycles.
- Slowed metabolism – Every system in the body slows down, including calorie burning and digestion.
- Impaired fertility – Thyroid disorders can disrupt ovulation and sperm production, causing difficulty conceiving.
Other symptoms that may occur with an underactive thyroid include dry skin, hoarse or raspy voice, blurred vision, tingling in the hands and feet, slowed reflexes, elevated blood cholesterol, and more. Keep in mind that symptoms can develop gradually over months and years. Also, not every person with hypothyroidism experiences all possible symptoms.
If you’re an older adult concerned about thyroid problems, I encourage you to check out my other article: Signs of Thyroid Problems in Older Adults – Things to Consider. It covers symptoms like fatigue, mood changes, and weight gain that tend to present differently in seniors. Getting the right diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve quality of life.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
In contrast, hyperthyroidism is the condition where the thyroid is overactive and produces too much T3 and T4 hormone. Excess thyroid hormone accelerates metabolism, causing symptoms like:
- Anxiety and nervousness – Hyperthyroidism often causes restlessness, anxiety, and feeling wired but tired.
- Unexplained weight loss – Increased metabolism boosts calorie burning and often leads to weight loss despite a good appetite.
- Rapid, irregular heartbeat– Too much thyroid hormone causes sinus tachycardia, or a resting heart rate over 100 bpm.
- Trembling hands – Thyrotoxicosis, or thyroid storm, can cause shaky hands, headaches, fever, and racing pulse.
- Sweating and heat sensitivity – Hypermetabolism causes excessive sweating and feeling hot all the time.
- Diarrhea – Excess thyroid hormone speeds up digestion and can cause loose stools or diarrhea.
- Muscle weakness – Muscles, especially in the upper arms and thighs, can weaken and waste away over time.
- Fatigue – Despite the nervous energy, hyperthyroidism also causes exhaustion and decreased stamina.
- Difficulty sleeping – The excess energy and anxiety make falling and staying asleep difficult.
- Thinning hair – Just as with hypothyroidism, the hair follicles are very sensitive to thyroid fluctuations.
- Irregular menstrual cycles – Hormone shifts lead to changes in the menstrual cycle such as light, absent, or infrequent periods.
- Bulging eyes – In some cases, increased tissue behind the eyes pushes the eyes outward, a condition called exophthalmos.
Other potential symptoms include rapid and unexplained weight loss, frequent bowel movements, lack of concentration, enlarged thyroid gland, elevated blood pressure, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. Hyperthyroidism symptoms tend to come on quickly over weeks to months compared to the gradual onset of hypothyroidism.
Causes and Risk Factors
There are a number of potential causes and risk factors for developing hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism:
- Hashimoto’s disease – This autoimmune disorder is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. Antibodies attack and damage the thyroid gland.
- Graves’ disease – This is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. It also involves an autoimmune attack on the thyroid but causes overproduction of hormones.
- Thyroid nodules – Noncancerous lumps in the thyroid can begin overproducing thyroid hormone, leading to hyperthyroidism.
- Thyroid cancer – Rarely, thyroid cancer can cause overproduction of thyroid hormones.
- Thyroiditis – Inflammation of the thyroid from conditions like viral infections can temporarily affect thyroid function.
- Congenital hypothyroidism – 1 in 4,000 babies are born with an underactive thyroid due to genetic factors.
- Iodine deficiency – Lack of dietary iodine can impair thyroid hormone production.
- Medications – Drugs like amiodarone, lithium, interferon alpha, and IL-2 can influence thyroid function.
- Radiation exposure – Prior radiation treatment or environment radiation exposure raises the risk for thyroid dysfunction.
- Family history – Genetic predisposition to autoimmune thyroid disease runs in families.
- Age and gender – Women over age 60 have a higher risk of developing thyroid disorders.
Getting an Accurate Diagnosis
Getting the right thyroid tests and having them interpreted properly is key to an accurate diagnosis. There are a few key lab tests that provide the full picture:
- TSH – Thyroid stimulating hormone is produced by the pituitary gland to signal the thyroid. High TSH indicates hypothyroidism while low TSH indicates hyperthyroidism.
- T4 and T3 – Measuring levels of circulating thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) directly shows how much the thyroid is producing.
- Thyroid antibodies – Testing for antibodies like TPOAb and thyroglobulin can identify autoimmune thyroiditis.
Simply checking TSH is not enough for thorough testing. An integrative doctor or endocrinologist will run a full thyroid panel plus antibodies and evaluate symptoms. They will also examine the thyroid through palpation and ultrasound.
Lab results must be interpreted in the full clinical context. For example, a TSH of 5.5 may be normal for one person but indicate hypothyroidism in someone with symptoms. Optimal TSH can vary by age, health status, and ethnicity. Finding a doctor who understands nuances in lab interpretation is key.
Proper diagnosis requires ruling out conditions like adrenal fatigue, blood sugar imbalances, food sensitivities, vitamin deficiencies, and hormonal causes that can mimic thyroid disease. Comprehensive testing provides an accurate picture so the right treatment can begin.
Conventional Treatment Options
Once properly diagnosed, there are a few main medical treatments for hypo and hyperthyroidism:
- Levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levoxyl) – This synthetic thyroid hormone medication is the standard treatment for hypothyroidism. The goal is to restore thyroid hormone levels and relieve symptoms.
- Liothyronine (Cytomel) – This synthetic version of T3 may be added if levothyroxine alone does not resolve symptoms.
- Antithyroid drugs – Methimazole and propylthiouracil block thyroid hormone production to control hyperthyroidism.
- Radioactive iodine – Taking radioactive iodine gradually destroys parts of the thyroid to reduce hormone production.
- Surgery – Removing part or all of the thyroid through surgery is an option if other treatments fail.
Within conventional medicine, synthetic thyroid medication is by far the most common treatment approach. However, this does not address the root causes of thyroid disorders. Integrative medicine aims to identify and treat the underlying autoimmunity or other dysfunction.
Lifestyle Changes and Natural Remedies
While medication can help manage thyroid disorder symptoms, natural therapies and lifestyle changes also play an important role in healing at the root cause:
- Eat anti-inflammatory foods like wild-caught fish, healthy fats, and greens
- Avoid gluten, dairy, soy, refined carbs, and sugars
- Ensure adequate iodine from sea vegetables and supplements
- Supplement with zinc, selenium, iron, omega-3s, and vitamin D3/K2
- Practice meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques
- Try guided imagery, biofeedback, and progressive muscle relaxation
- Get massage therapy and acupuncture treatments
- Get regular moderate, low-impact exercise like walking, swimming, or Pilates
- Focus on stress-reducing activities like yoga, tai chi, and stretching
- Prioritize getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night
- Establish regular sleep and wake times
- Reduce blue light exposure and create an optimal sleep environment
- Explore herbal supplements like ashwagandha, guggul, and bladderwrack
- Consider low-level laser therapy, infrared sauna, and cryotherapy
- Work with a functional medicine practitioner for a holistic treatment plan
Adopting thyroid-supportive habits and working with both conventional and alternative practitioners gives the best chance of improving thyroid problems long-term.
Living with Thyroid Disease
Getting diagnosed with hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, or another thyroid condition can feel overwhelming. Here are some tips for living well with thyroid disorder:
- Seek counseling or join a support group to manage depression/anxiety
- Practice self-care like taking baths, journaling, or spending time outdoors
- Identify and treat nutrient deficiencies that affect mood
- Let go of perfectionism and be gentle with yourself
Communicate with Loved Ones
- Educate family and friends about your symptoms and needs
- Explain ways your condition affects your energy, mood, concentration, etc.
- Enlist loved ones to help with tasks when needed
Adapt Your Lifestyle
- Reduce commitments and delegate tasks when energy is low
- Schedule meaningful rest and relaxation daily
- Modify exercise routine as needed and avoid overexertion
- Plan your week based on your body’s rhythms and cycles
Work with Your Doctor
- Communicate openly about your symptoms and treatment goals
- Get regular blood tests to monitor hormone levels
- Ask about alternatives if current treatment isn’t helping
- Get other doctors’ opinions if you feel your symptoms aren’t being properly addressed
While thyroid disease can’t be cured, with the right treatment, support, and self-care, it is possible to minimize symptoms and feel your best every day.
Thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism have a profound effect on how you feel every day. The wide range of possible symptoms includes:
- Fatigue, weakness, and sleep issues
- Weight changes and appetite shifts
- Depression, anxiety, and moodiness
- Hair loss and skin changes
- Menstrual cycle irregularities
- Digestive problems
- Body temperature dysregulation
- Heart palpitations and high blood pressure
Getting tested for thyroid antibodies along with TSH, T4, and T3 provides the full picture needed for an accurate diagnosis. While medication is the conventional approach, functional and naturopathic medicine also focus on addressing the root causes like autoimmunity through diet, stress reduction, nutrient balancing, and other holistic protocols.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of an underactive or overactive thyroid, don’t ignore them and hope it goes away. Seek out a practitioner who takes all your concerns seriously and thoroughly explores whether a thyroid disorder could be the cause. Getting proper treatment and managing lifestyle factors can help minimize symptoms so you have the energy and vitality to truly thrive.
If you’ve dealt with thyroid issues, I want to hear from you! Leave a comment below sharing your experience. What symptoms have you struggled with most? Have you found a treatment approach that has really helped restore your health? Do you have any tips to offer others also navigating thyroid problems?
Let’s create a supportive community where we can discuss and learn from one another’s challenges and triumphs in overcoming thyroid dysfunction. Dealing with health issues can feel lonely and frustrating, but you don’t have to go through it alone. I look forward to exchanging ideas and encouragement in the comments!
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. The content is based on research and common knowledge in the thyroid health field. Always consult a qualified medical professional for an evaluation of your specific health situation and treatment recommendations tailored to you.
Iskra Banović is our seasoned Editor-in-Chief at BlueFashion. She has been steering the website’s content and editorial direction since 2013. With a rich background in fashion design, Iskra’s expertise spans across fashion, interior design, beauty, lifestyle, travel, and culture.