Does fatigue drag you down day after day? Do you have brain fog, weight gain, chills, or hair loss? Or is the opposite true for you: Are you often revved up, sweaty, or anxious? Your thyroid gland could be to blame. This great regulator of body and mind sometimes goes haywire, particularly in women. Getting the right treatment is critical to feel your best and avoid serious health problems.
What Is the Thyroid Gland?
Changes in Energy or Mood
Changes in Heart Rate
Feeling Too Cold or Hot
Swelling in the Neck
Weight Gain or Loss
Other Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism can cause many other symptoms, including:
- Dry skin and brittle nails
- Numbness or tingling in the hands
- Abnormal menstrual periods
- Muscle weakness or trembling hands
- Vision problems
- Irregular menstrual periods
Thyroid Disorder or Menopause?
Who Should Be Tested?
If you think you have symptoms of a thyroid problem, ask your doctor if you should be tested. People with symptoms or risk factors may need tests more often. Hypothyroidism more frequently affects women over age 60. Hyperthyroidism is also more common in women. A family history raises your risk of either disorder.
Thyroid Neck Check
A careful look in the mirror may help you spot an enlarged thyroid that needs a doctor's attention. Health Tips for Women - Thyroid Symptoms and Solutions. Tip your head back, take a drink of water, and as you swallow, examine your neck below the Adam's apple and above the collarbone. Look for bulges or protrusions, then repeat the process a few times. See a doctor promptly if you see a bulge or lump.
Diagnosing Thyroid Disorders
If your doctor suspects a thyroid disorder, a blood test can help provide an answer. This test measures the level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), a kind of master hormone that regulates the work of the thyroid gland. If TSH is high, it typically means that your thyroid function is too low (hypothyroid). If TSH is low, then it generally means the thyroid is overactive (hyperthyroid.) Your doctor may also check levels of other thyroid hormones in your blood. In some cases, imaging studies are used and biopsies are taken to evaluate a thyroid abnormality.
Other Causes of Hypothyroidism
In some cases, hypothyroidism results from a problem with the pituitary gland, which is at the base of the brain. Health Tips for Women - Thyroid Symptoms and Solutions. This gland produces thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which tells the thyroid to do its job. If your pituitary gland does not produce enough TSH, levels of thyroid hormones will fall. Other causes of hypothyroidism include temporary inflammation of the thyroid or medications that affect thyroid function.
Hyperthyroidism can also result from thyroid nodules. These are lumps that develop inside the thyroid and sometimes begin producing thyroid hormones. Large lumps may create a noticeable goiter. Smaller lumps can be detected with ultrasound. A thyroid uptake and scan can tell if the lump is producing too much thyroid hormone.
Thyroid Disorder Complications
If you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, your doctor will most likely prescribe thyroid hormones in the form of a pill. This usually leads to noticeable improvements within a couple of weeks. Long-term treatment can result in more energy, lower cholesterol levels, and gradual weight loss. Most people with hypothyroidism will need to take thyroid hormones for the rest of their lives.
The most common treatment for hyperthyroidism is antithyroid medication, which aims to lower the amount of hormones produced by the thyroid. The condition may eventually go away, but many people need to remain on medication for the long term. Other drugs may be given to reduce symptoms such as rapid pulse and tremors. Another option is radioactive iodine, which destroys the thyroid gland over the course of 6 to 18 weeks. Once the gland is destroyed, or removed by surgery, most patients must begin taking thyroid hormones in pill form.
Surgery for Thyroid Disorders
What About Thyroid Cancer?
Thyroid cancer is uncommon and is among the least deadly. Health Tips for Women - Thyroid Symptoms and Solutions. The main symptom is a lump or swelling in the neck, and only about 5% of thyroid nodules turn out to be cancerous. When thyroid cancer is diagnosed, it is most often treated with surgery followed by radioactive iodine therapy or, in some cases, external radiation therapy.