The human thyroid gland is a vital component in regulating our body’s metabolism, hormones, and energy levels. Without the full function of the gland, our bodies endure significant changes, which can affect the overall productivity of numerous body systems. Think of your thyroid as a warehouse for a major retailer or company. Our brain (or more specifically, our hypothalamus) sends out a message to the thyroid letting it know whether to produce and send out more or less of a particular hormone. When there is a presence of thyroid disease, this communication (whether it be in the thyroid gland, the brain, or an underlying viral or bacterial infection) can cause either an underactive or overactive thyroid. Hypothyroidism is a condition caused by an underactive thyroid. With hypothyroidism, you can experience things like memory loss, fatigue, and dry skin.
If your body feels a bit out of whack with no signs of resetting, it might be worth it to talk to your doctor about hypothyroidism. You’ll need a blood test to get an official yes or no, but there are key physical symptoms that showcase with an underactive thyroid. Below, we review eight potential signs that you may be experiencing hypothyroidism.
1. Weight Gain
We know that weight fluctuations happen—daily, in fact. Weight gain associated with an underactive thyroid, though, is something different. It happens quick, and at accelerating numbers. It’s possible to experience increases of 20 pounds in only a matter of months. Health Expert Nicholas Carlis says, “Our thyroid and metabolism are closely related. Whenever the thyroid does not produce enough hormones, the metabolism begins to slow down. This causes you to burn calories at a lower rate. Even the rate at which your body burns calories when at rest, [also known as] your basal metabolic rate, decreases. Your body begins to store more calories as fat and many begin to gain weight.”
2. Loss of Hair
Hair thinning can also be a staple sign that your body has an underactive thyroid. This loss of hair can happen anywhere on the body, from the hair on the top of your head to your eyebrows. According to Endocrinologist Mikiko Watanabe, MD, “Diffuse scalp hair loss is often one of the first clinical manifestations of hypothyroidism. [It] occurs in about a third of patients. Lack of thyroid hormone inhibits cell division, thus altering the natural cycle of the hair. This effect can be reversible with thyroid hormone replacement.”
3. Extreme Sensitivity to Cold
Are you finding that your hands are always cold to the touch? And you can never have enough coats or blankets in your home or office? It’s true that the heater could be on the outs. However, this can also potentially point to hypothyroidism. “Feeling cold is common in people who are experiencing hypothyroidism. It’s closely tied to the changes it causes to the metabolism,” says Carlis. “Whenever your body burns calories, heat is released, which is why you begin to feel warm when exercising. Those with hypoactive thyroids often burn fewer calories in every situation, even at rest, which causes this persistent cold feeling.”
If you regularly fight a constant need for sleep—even after a full night’s rest—you’re dealing with fatigue and potentially an underactive thyroid. Alison Mitzner, a pediatrician, explains that “the thyroid gland produces hormones that help control many body functions. These include: your breathing, heart rate, body temperature, digestion, and more. [A lack of] thyroid hormone leads to decrease in body functions, leaving you tired and fatigued.” Basically, your body’s energy levels require a certain amount of thyroid hormones to stay up. Any drop could lead to that weighed down, sleepy feeling.
5. Depression and Anxiety
Unregulated thyroid hormones may also impact the mind. Depression and anxiety are on the rise, in general, thanks to external pressures and otherwise accelerated levels of stress. But if you haven’t experienced any recent life changes that may impact your moods and emotions and are still feeling anxious or uncharacteristically down, you might want to get your thyroid checked. “At least half of those who experience hypothyroidism experience some level of depression and anxiety,” says Carlis. “The link between hypothyroidism and depression has not been determined quite yet. But some believe [that] this could be a natural reaction to an overall decrease in energy and health.”
6. Carpal Tunnel
The large amount of time we spend typing on our computers or phones may not actually be the sole cause for those experiencing carpal tunnel. In fact, those with an underactive thyroid can showcase symptoms of uncomfortable feelings in their wrist. This is due to the increased levels of inflammation.
“Carpal tunnel is a well known complication of hypothyroidism,” says Watanabe. “Lack of thyroid hormone leads to the accumulation of hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate, forming a gel in subcutaneous tissues. This gel can accumulate in the carpal tunnel, narrowing the space available for the passage and compressing the median nerve (the one that provides motor and sensory function to [the] palm of [the] hands and first four digits of hand).” It’s important to note that when [hypothyroidism causes] carpal tunnel syndrome, treatment with thyroid hormone can reverse it without the need of a surgical operation. So, before jumping into surgery as a treatment for your stiff wrist, test your blood work for an underactive thyroid first.
7. Lack of Sweat
Sweat released from the body not only rids our system of toxins, but it also helps to regulate our body’s temperature. In the same way that those with hypothyroidism experience cold extremities, they also experience a lower sweat production. “Because thyroid hormone increases metabolism in almost all cells, the diminished quantities of the hormone that you have in hypothyroidism has the opposite effect. It can reduce the basal metabolic rate below normal and the production of heat by the body,” says Watanabe. You may be thankful to sweat a bit less, but stay cognizant of just how little sweat you’re producing compared to normal. Talk to your doctor if it seems a little too good to be true.
8. Dry and Boggy Skin
According to Board Certified Dermatologist Anna D Guanche, “A severely low thyroid causes edema (swelling of the face) that is chronic and involves the medial cheeks and lower lids, giving the face a boggy appearance.” Additionally, other areas of the body can be effected and swell, such as the feet and ankles. A severe case of an underactive thyroid can also cause myxedema. If symptoms of either edema or myxedema are present, this is a life-threatening and severe condition. You need to seek medical assistance immediately. These symptoms signal that the body can no longer support the body’s response to an underactive thyroid. Consequently, it begins to reject the body’s systems.
The thyroid is an incredibly complex gland responsible for a number of the body’s major functions. Stay aware of any symptoms you may experience and heed any external pressures or factors that may contribute to them. If your symptoms persist, talk to your doctor about a possible blood test to make sure everything is in proper working order.
Do not try to treat or manage your hypothyroidism without the guidance of a medical expert.