Endocrinology 101: Is My Thyroid Working? A Guide to Disease Symptoms

When our thyroid is working correctly, we don’t give it another thought. But when there is an incorrect amount of thyroid hormone in our bodies, we take notice. Thyroid hormone is important for regulating many body functions and Thyroid dysfunction can affect our metabolism, heart rate, body temperature, and digestion.

How the thyroid malfunctions

There are essentially two ways the thyroid malfunctions, by producing too much thyroid hormone and by not producing enough.

Hypothyroidism: When there it too little thyroid hormone, it’s called hypothyroidism, underactive thyroid, or Hashimoto’s disease.

Hyperthyroidism: When there is too much thyroid hormone, it’s call hyperthyroidism, overactive thyroid, or Graves’ disease.

Thyroid dysfunction is most often an autoimmune response where there is an immune attack against the thyroid. Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s disease are both autoimmune diseases. Thyroid dysfunction can also be caused by abnormal thyroid growths or thyroid surgery.

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Symptoms and risk factors of thyroid dysfunction

Symptoms of hypothyroidism

The most common symptom is fatigue, but there are many other possible symptoms.

  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • trouble tolerating cold
  • joint and muscle pain
  • constipation
  • dry skin or dry, thinning hair
  • heavy or irregular menstrual periods or fertility problems
  • slowed heart rate

Risk factors of hypothyroidism

Those with other autoimmune disorders, like the following, are most likely to have an underactive thyroid.

  • female
  • 30-50 years
  • previous thyroid problem
  • family history of thyroid dysfunction
  • recent pregnancy
  • Turner syndrome — a genetic disorder
  • celiac disease — a digestive disorder that damages the small intestine
  • lupus — a chronic, or long-term, disorder that can affect many parts of the body
  • rheumatoid arthritis — a disorder that affects the joints
  • Sjögren’s syndrome — a disease that causes dry eyes and mouth
  • type 1 diabetes

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism

Symptoms mirror having too much caffeine — palpitations, anxiety, shakiness and insomnia.

  • weight loss despite an increased appetite
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • nervousness, irritability, trouble sleeping, fatigue
  • shaky hands, muscle weakness
  • sweating or trouble tolerating heat
  • frequent bowel movements
  • goiter

Risk factors of hyperthyroidism

As with underactive thyroid, having an autoimmune disorder can contribute to developing overactive thyroid.

  • female
  • 30-50 years
  • family history
  • rheumatoid arthritis a disorder that affects the joints and sometimes other body systems
  • pernicious anemia a condition caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency
  • lupus a chronic, or long-term, disorder that can affect many parts of your body
  • Addison’s disease — a hormonal disorder
  • celiac disease — a digestive disorder
  • vitiligo a disorder in which some parts of the skin are not pigmented
  • type 1 diabetes

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Diagnosing thyroid dysfunction

Thyroid dysfunction is diagnosed with blood tests that assess TSH, free T4, T3 and antibody levels. TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) is the hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain and regulates the amount of thyroid hormone (T3 and T4) produced by the thyroid. Antibodies against the thyroid gland (detected in autoimmune thyroid disease) may also be detected in a blood test.

Getting care for the thyroid

If you have received a troubling blood test or are experiencing some of the symptoms noted above, your primary care doctor may refer you to an endocrinologist. The Sierra Nevada Endocrinology team has the skill, knowledge, and expertise to assess your symptoms, determine a diagnosis, and provide a treatment plan to improve your quality of life. To schedule an appointment with the SNSC care team, call 775.322.4550.