Published on August 01, 2019

Thy Fickle Thyroid

The thyroid is a tiny, butterfly-shaped gland with the power to control your metabolism. Most of the time, it acts right. But for 1 in 8 women, it can stir up some trouble.

woman touching neck with fingersThe thyroid gland is about two inches long and lies at the front of your throat. It has two sides, called lobes, connected by a strip of tissue called an isthmus. Hold your two thumbs together in a V-shape, and that’s about the size of your thyroid. Small, but mighty.

Your thyroid gland keeps your metabolism in check and your energy level balanced by producing hormones that travel to your cells. These hormones help regulate important functions such as breathing, heart rate and body temperature. If the hormone levels get too high or too low your body can go haywire.

Hypo or Hyper?

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are the two most common thyroid disorders. Both conditions are diagnosed with a blood test and fairly easy to treat.

Hypothyroidism is the clinical term for an underactive thyroid gland. In other words, cells aren’t getting enough thyroid hormone, so your body’s systems slow down to a turtle’s pace. Hypothyroidism often pops up in middle-aged women about the same time menopause rears its ugly head. Fun, huh?

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue, even when you are well rested
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Mood swings
  • Unexplained weight gain

Hyperthyroidism is the clinical term for an overactive thyroid gland. In other words, cells are getting too much thyroid hormone, which causes your body’s symptoms to kick into high gear

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased sweating
  • Mood swings
  • More frequent bowel movements and/or diarrhea
  • Nervousness and/or irritability
  • Unexplained weight loss

What to Do

Nearly 60% of people with a thyroid condition don’t realize they have one. For women who’ve always been relatively healthy, a thyroid disorder isn’t even on the radar. If you think an out-of-whack thyroid is causing your symptoms, talk with your primary care doctor and ask about a blood test.

“If your initial lab results are abnormal, your doctor will order more specific thyroid blood tests,” Dr. Ancy explained. “Sometimes, diet and lifestyle changes can help with symptoms, but most people need to take medication to rebalance their thyroid.”

If, after trying lifestyle changes and medication, your symptoms don’t improve, your doctor may refer you to an endocrinologist for additional testing and diagnosis.

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