Thyroid disorders are common among millions of Americans. Most of them don’t even know they have a thyroid disorder until the symptoms become so magnified that a doctor finally tests for it. What is a thyroid and what are thyroid disorders?
*Note: this post contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to buy something from a link, we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support.
The thyroid is a gland found in your neck that regulates the release of hormones. These particular hormones (which comes in two forms – T3 and T4) contribute to the regulation of your metabolism, growth, and overall energy.
When these hormones are released in your body, it helps you burn calories, helps your heartbeat, and assists you in keeping up your metabolism.
Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are the main forms of thyroid disorders. You have to know what the signs and symptoms are so that you can begin treatment for either disorder as soon as possible. Other issues include thyroiditis, goiters, thyroid nodules, or cancer.
The problem with thyroid disorders is that most symptoms don’t hit all at once. They show up gradually as time goes on, so your doctor might diagnose you wrongly. It pays to be aware of your body so you can demand testing if necessary.
Signs You Might Have Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is when your body’s thyroid goes into overdrive and makes way too much of the hormones it’s supposed to produce. Usually, this is due to a condition known as Graves’ disease, which is an autoimmune disorder. It could also be caused by thyroid nodules.
Like most thyroid issues, it isn’t something you wake up with one day and instantly know what’s hit you. It comes on slowly.
Osteoporosis is likely to occur first. You may not know it unless you begin experiencing brittle bones due to a fall and a fracture. If you’re postmenopausal, you might want to get tested for both conditions and see if there’s a connection.
There are other signs and symptoms that you can pick up on. Make sure you write them all down as you experience them, so you have a comprehensive look at your health status.
Here are some of the most common symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism:
- Eating the same (or more), but losing weight
- Tired, weak and irritable much of the time
- The number of bowel movements day increases
- Nervous and hands get shaky
- Heart feels like it’s pounding out of chest or too beating fast
- Suffer from double vision at times, or irritable eyes
- If female started having irregular periods that are lighter and few and far between
- Suffer from insomnia (I’ve written a post on anxiety and insomnia)
- Can’t deal with the heat and you sweat profusely
Having one or two of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have a thyroid disorder. It’s always better to get checked out so you can start treatment soon.
Signs You Might Have Hypothyroidism
The opposite of hyperthyroidism is hypothyroidism. It’s when your thyroid doesn’t secrete enough of the hormones that you need to make your metabolism work properly. That’s because it’s being attacked by your immune system.
Some of the symptoms for hypothyroidism are the same as for hyperthyroidism, such as fatigue and muscle weakness. But other symptoms are opposite of that condition.
- Weight gain
- Being cold all the time
- Infrequent bowel movements
- Heavy periods
There are some unique symptoms, too.
- Clouded thinking
- Memory problems
- Dry skin and brittle or thinning hair
- Pain in your joints
- High cholesterol
- Hoarse vocals periodically
- Feeling depressed
Hashimoto’s Disease is one of the most common causes for this disorder that makes your immune system attack your thyroid. But it’s not the only cause. You might get it because you’ve had your thyroid taken out or because you’re having cancer treatment that includes radiation.
Getting Tested for a Thyroid Disorder
Women are more likely to have thyroid disorders than men, but that doesn’t mean that men are immune to them. The older you get, the more likely it is that you’ll end up with a thyroid disorder.
Testing is on-going once you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder. Your doctor will need to know where your levels currently stand so he or she can adjust your medication properly.
The symptoms are so vague and common to other health situations that it’s hard for your doctor to diagnose without a firm test that proves whether you have a thyroid disorder or not.
This type of illness is often hereditary. It’s important for you to find out if your parents or grandparents suffered from thyroid disorders. This will be a good indication of what’s causing your symptoms.
The doctor will, of course, feel your neck for thyroid nodules. That alone won’t deliver a full picture, so more tests need to be run at this point. The most common test is a simple blood test.
The blood test will measure the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. The results will tell if your thyroid is performing properly or if it is over or under producing.
It’s possible that your doctor will run more blood tests. This will let your doctor check for immune disorders that might be causing the situation in the first place.
Another thing your physician might do is have you consume a capsule with radioactive iodine (known as radioiodine). If your thyroid accepts too much of the radioiodine, then you could be suffering from hyperthyroidism. If it takes too small of an amount, then you may have hypothyroidism.
An ultrasound or a scan can be used to rule out nodules and cancer. Some doctors will perform a biopsy of your thyroid. Using a very small needle, the doctor inserts it into the thyroid, to collect fluid and cells. A pathologist can examine the fluid and cells to rule out thyroid cancer.
Ways to Treat Your Thyroid Disorder
Treatment depends on which thyroid disorder you have, as well as the severity of it. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. It also depends on the cause of your disorder.
Hyperthyroidism is often treated with medications. This prevents your thyroid from making the hormones. You might also be given beta blockers that prevent the effects of your hyperthyroidism in your body. The hormones are still released, but your body responds differently, such as with a slower heartbeat.
Surgical removal is an option for your thyroid. But then you might end up suffering from hypothyroidism, too. The surgery removes most of the thyroid, but not all of it.
Radioiodine that you originally swallowed during testing can also work as a treatment option. You can take a bigger dose, and it will annihilate the thyroid cells that make too much of the hormone.
With surgery or radioiodine, you’re destroying the thyroid’s capabilities, so you’ll have to take thyroid pills indefinitely. But that’s a small price to pay. The medication will deliver a normal, regulated amount of the hormone that’s not out of control.
One thing that can disappoint many sufferers is that thyroid medicine doesn’t work overnight. It takes months for you to feel the effects, so all of the symptoms you’re experiencing should get better over time.
With hypothyroidism, your body isn’t making enough of the hormone, so your doctor will probably prescribe pills for you to help the body regulate the hormones.
The pills, which are man-made hormones are known as levothyroxine (T4) and liothyronine (T3). You might get one or both prescribed to you by your doctor, depending on the treatment plan.
This isn’t something you can fix and then be medication-free. You’ll probably be on thyroid medicine forever. But once you’ve been on it for 6-12 months, you should see a marked improvement in how you feel.
Are There Natural Ways to Improve Thyroid Function?
Because your thyroid regulates your metabolism, you’ll want to look for natural ways to help improve your metabolism if you’re suffering from hypothyroidism and feeling sluggish.
Of course you probably already know that once you start moving your body, it helps your metabolism. So working out, both cardio and strength training, can help improve the symptoms of an under-active thyroid.
Changing what you eat is a good first step. Remove wheat and soy products from your diet. This should help you to keep your weight under control. I started the Whole30 program in August 2017. I’ve lost almost 50 pounds, and I’m beginning to feel better. Before starting, I read The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. I highly recommend this program.
Reduce your stress level. I know that’s easier said than done. But stress produces cortisol, and cortisol inhibits getting T3 into your cells. Since all these tests are blood level tests, even if your T3 blood-count test is okay, your cells could be lacking. This is a tricky area that few doctors know about.
Try detoxing heavy metals from your body. What we eat and drink can leave behind minute amounts of heavy metals. These metals, including mercury, lead, cadmium, and aluminum) can become harmful as they build up in your system. Dr. Mark Hyman, a renowned holistic doctor, has written a book, Detox Box. As well as the book, it comes with 2 CDs, flashcards, checklists, shopping lists and more. He walks you through the steps of detoxing in 7, 14, or 21 days.
Natural hormone balancing may be needed to recover completely from hypothyroidism. You could avoid synthetic pills like levothyroxine and request something natural, such as a desiccated liver product. This is a natural product that supplies the complete thyroid hormone.
Take supplements. Most store-bought multi-vitamins are not suitable or strong enough to help hypothyroidism. You should consider buying the supplements you need or looking for a high-quality multi-vitamin. You want to look for iodine, selenium, zinc, and vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin C. Other nutrients such as omega-3 and amino acids are known to help regulate the thyroid. It is important to talk with your physician about any supplements or medications you plan to take.
There are a few other books that you could check out to find out more information on thyroid disorders:
Note: This post is for informational purposes only, and should not be seen as medical advice. Each person is unique, and only your physician knows your specific health needs.
I’ve also written a post on anti-inflammatory foods for fibromyalgia. A lot of these foods are also good for thyroid disorders.