Hypothyroidism, also known as underactive thyroid or low thyroid, is a disorder in which the thyroid gland is not able to produce an adequate amount of the hormone called thyroxine.
This hormone plays a role in major bodily functions – how your body uses energy, regulates body temperature and digests food, to name a few. A low level of thyroid hormones in the body can interfere with these and other functions.
There can be several reasons why the thyroid gland is not making enough hormones, including autoimmune diseases (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and atrophic thyroiditis), surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid gland, radiation treatment, congenital hypothyroidism that a baby is born with, inflammation of the thyroid gland, intake of too much or too little iodine, any kind of damage to the pituitary gland and side effects of certain medicines.
About 4.6 percent of the United States population suffers from underactive thyroid. The risk for developing hypothyroidism is higher in women over age 50 and postpartum females.
Thyroid problems are easily identified with a simple blood test and can often be fixed with the right medicines.
But most cases of hypothyroidism remain undiagnosed because the early symptoms are diverse and easily ignored.
If you have multiple signs and symptoms of this problem, ask your doctor to check your thyroid hormone levels.
Also Read – 10 Best Foods to Improve an Underactive Thyroid
Here are the top 10 signs that you have an underactive thyroid.
1. Unexplained Weight Gain
Weight gain without any change in diet or physical activity may indicate low levels of thyroid hormones. These hormones help regulate basal metabolism and thermogenesis as well as the metabolism of fats and glucose.
An underactive thyroid contributes to a lower metabolic rate, which may cause excess weight gain.
A 2008 study published in the Saudi Medical Journal notes that overall thyroid dysfunction was found more often in overweight people with varying degree of significance.
However, more detailed studies are needed to find out the exact cause and effect relationship between obesity and hypothyroidism.
If you have unexplained weight gain, it is essential to consult your doctor to determine the exact cause.
2. Dry and Flaky Skin
If you are following your usual beauty and skin care regimen and haven’t changed any of the products you use but your skin is dry and itchy, it could be a symptom of hypothyroidism.
The change in skin texture and appearance can be due to reduced blood circulation, one of the side effects of having low thyroid hormones.
In addition, a slowed metabolism due to low thyroid hormone production can reduce sweating. Without proper sweating, the skin becomes dry and flaky.
Along with dry skin, there may be facial puffiness (especially near the eyelids) and thickened skin on the lower legs with a pale or yellowish appearance.
A 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology notes that the most common cutaneous feature in patients with hypothyroidism is coarse, rough and dry skin.
As these skin signs are rather nonspecific and often subtle, people tend to ignore them or attribute them to other causes. It is best to consult your doctor to see if there is an underlying health condition causing these skin changes.
3. Muscle Soreness and Pain
People suffering from hypothyroidism often experience muscle weakness, pain, stiffness, or cramping. There may also be general joint pain.
Low metabolism disrupts how your body burns energy, which can affect how your muscles feel after doing your regular exercises. Low thyroid often increases inflammation that may be contributing to your muscle and joint pain.
A 2000 study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry notes that neuromuscular symptoms and signs were present in most patients having thyroid problems.
In fact, about 40 percent of the hypothyroid patients had predominantly sensory signs of a sensorimotor axonal neuropathy early in the course of thyroid disease.
For unexplained muscle aches and pains, consult your doctor to rule out the possibility of an undiagnosed thyroid problem or other health issues.
4. Hair Loss
Proper functioning of the thyroid gland is essential for the development and maintenance of the hair follicles, and an underactive thyroid can result in significant changes in hair growth and texture. It may also affect eyebrows and body hair.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reports that thyroid hormones directly affect hair follicles.
The thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) modulate several aspects of hair anatomy, from the hair growth cycle to the hair’s pigmentation.
Another 2008 study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology notes that among the thyroid disorders, hypothyroidism is often associated with alopecia areata.
The study also put emphasis on screening for thyroid abnormalities in patients with chronic, recurrent and extensive alopecia areata.
If you are worried about hair loss and other hair-related issues, see your doctor to get your thyroid checked.
5. Constant Fatigue and Tiredness
Fatigue and extreme tiredness are very common in people who have an underactive thyroid. When low thyroid hormones flow through the blood, cells do not function properly, leading to less energy, fatigue and constant tiredness. These symptoms persist even after getting proper sleep and rest.
A 2012 study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology notes that autoimmune hypothyroidism patients had significantly higher levels of fatigue as compared with differentiated thyroid carcinoma patients.
In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers noted that people with hypothyroidism undergoing 12 weeks of thyroxine treatment saw a reduction in their tiredness, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and body weight.
As tiredness, constant fatigue, sleepiness and lack of energy are associated with many conditions, it is important to consult your doctor to find out the exact reason.
6. Menstrual and Fertility Problems
Women with hypothyroidism may experience menstrual as well as fertility problems. Thyroid hormones have a great influence on menstruation, pregnancy, lactation and even uterine involution after childbirth.
Low thyroid function can lead to changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle length and blood flow. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of India notes that thyroid dysfunction is an important causative etiology of menstrual abnormalities.
In fact, the study puts emphasis on the assessment of thyroid function in all patients with menstrual disorders to avoid unnecessary interventions like curettage and hysterectomy.
Infertility can also be due to undiagnosed thyroid conditions.
A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Applied Basic Medical Research reports that hypothyroidism can affect fertility due to anovulatory cycles, luteal phase defects, hyperprolactinemia and sex hormone imbalance.
With simple, oral hypothyroidism treatment for 3 months to 1 year, asymptomatic infertile women can improve their chances to conceive.
For any change in menstrual pattern as well as problems becoming pregnant, it is important to get your thyroid checked.