If you’re experiencing noticeable changes in your everyday health – aches and pains, hair loss, weight fluctuations – it could very well be attributed to an over- or underactive thyroid. Angela LaSalle, MD, PPG – Integrative Medicine, walks us through the possibilities.
How important is that small butterfly shaped gland in your neck, known as the thyroid? Very! Every tissue in your body requires thyroid hormone to function optimally, and having too much or too little thyroid can cause widespread symptoms affecting both your mind and your body.
Fatigue, unexplained weight loss or gain, menstrual changes, dry skin, hair loss, heart palpitations, sleep issues, foggy thinking, muscle aches and constipation or diarrhea are only some of the symptoms associated with alterations in thyroid function.
The symptoms of a thyroid disorder can be subtle and come on slowly, or be triggered quickly by a physical stressor, such as a viral infection or childbirth. The elderly, perimenopause, or persons with autoimmune or endocrine problems such as diabetes are also at risk for developing thyroid problems.
Since the symptoms of a thyroid problem overlap with other potential causes, it can be easy to miss a thyroid issue. So, if you haven’t been feeling your best lately, consider discussing your thyroid health with your physician.
Screening for thyroid issues can be done by checking the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) level, a signal hormone produced by the pituitary. It is important to note that the TSH level runs opposite of the function of the thyroid gland. If the TSH is running high, then the thyroid is under producing thyroid hormone. This is called hypothyroidism (hypo = low). If the TSH is low, then it is called hyperthyroidism (hyper = high).
Since the normal laboratory range for TSH is fairly broad, those with a family history of thyroid disease or non-resolving symptoms consistent with thyroid problems may ask their doctor to check free levels of the two most active thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, along with thyroid antibody testing to rule out a thyroid issue caused by a person’s immune system attacking the thyroid gland, known as thyroiditis.
Medications can be used to supplement low thyroid hormone levels, while symptoms of overproduction can be treated by medications, or in more severe cases, having the thyroid treated with radioactive iodine or surgery.