Your thyroid may be small, but the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck is responsible for a lot. It's the largest endocrine gland in your body and produces two types of hormones – T3 and T4 – that control the rate at which your body burns energy and responds to stress hormones, says R. Mack Harrell, MD, past president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. It regulates your appetite, energy levels, and even your body temperature.
When your thyroid is acting normally, you barely even notice it, but when it starts to malfunction, the symptoms are hard to ignore. There are several ways it can malfunction, but the most common are hyperthyroidism (when too much thyroid hormone is produced in the body) and hypothyroidism (when not enough thyroid hormone is produced).
Here are nine surprising signs your thyroid is not functioning properly:
1. Your skin is thin or rough to the touch
"The thyroid controls the rate at which you shed your skin," Dr Harrell says. In those with hyperthyroidism, skin sheds a little faster, often resulting in smoother but thinner skin. Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, slows down skin cell turnover, making skin feel rougher.
Other skin issues that can result from hyperthyroidism include skin that feels moist or warm, and increased redness of the face and hands, while those with hypothyroidism may experience skin that feels cold and pale, wounds that take longer to heal, and an orange-yellow tint to the skin caused by carotenaemia (the thyroid's failure to convert carotene to vitamin A).
2.You've lost a lot of weight, or gained a little
An overactive thyroid can make you lose a scary amount of weight in a short period of time, even when you have a good appetite and the amount of food you're eating stays the same. This is because hyperthyroidism increases your metabolism.
Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, slows the metabolism. But this doesn't result in major weight gain for most people. "A 100-pound weight gain is always caused by something more than hypothyroidism, where the average weight gain is less than 5 pounds," Dr Harrell says.
3. You always feel boiling hot or freezing cold
You're probably catching on by now – hyperthyroidism (or an overactive thyroid) speeds up your normal body processes, giving you a higher metabolic rate. And since you're burning energy faster, you'll feel hot.
"People with hyperthyroidism can wake up sweating at night because of the increased energy burn with a rapid heartbeat," Dr Harrell says. On the flip side, hypothyroidism could make you reach for an extra sweatshirt since your body's metabolic rate has slowed down, making you feel colder.
4. Your emotions are all over the place
An overactive thyroid has a kind of manic effect on your emotions, says Dr Harrell. "Hyperthyroid is typically associated with anxiety, hyper emotionality, and even psychosis," Dr Harrell says.
An underactive thyroid, however, is associated with feelings of depression and the want to withdraw from social situations. Hypothyroidism could also result in some cognitive issues like forgetfulness or decreased motor skills. In fact, low thyroid levels have been linked to feelings of drunkenness, according to Dr Harrell.
5. Your energy is zapped
Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can result in a seriously pooped human body. With an underactive thyroid, you lack the energy to do pretty much anything. That overactive thyroid, however, turns your metabolic rate up to 100, all day, every day, resulting in some serious energy crashes.
"Hyperthyroidism drastically increases heart rate, so people are so jacked up that it tires them out quicker," Dr Harrell says. And these low energy levels translate into bedroom issues – sleep schedules and sex drives suffer from hypo- and hyperthyroidism (i.e., you never want to have sex because all you want to do is sleep).
6. Your digestion is odd
You know how hyperthyroidism speeds everything up? Your bowel movements are one of those things – many with an overactive thyroid find themselves running to the loo more than just a couple times a day, says Dr Harrell. And with hypothyroidism? Yep, you guessed it – constipation. A slowed-down body means fewer and further between bowel movements.
7. Your menstrual cycle is out of sync
Your menstrual cycle is the most sensitive of hormone indicators – one small change can throw everything out of whack. Your menstrual cycle isn't picky, either. Regardless of hyper- or hypothyroidism, your period could vary between being less frequent and more frequent, and seriously heavy versus incredibly light.
Basically, when it comes to a thyroid issue, the first question doctors should ask is if your period has been disturbed in any way, Dr Harrell says. "If a patient has normal cycles with consistent and normal flow, then everything is right with the world," Harrell explains. If your menstrual cycles are screwed up and something just seems off with your body, Dr Harrell suggests seeing a doctor right away, since menstruation inconsistencies are the first sign of a hormone issue.
8. You've lost some hair
Hair loss can happen with both underactive and overactive thyroids – just in different ways, Dr Harrell says. While thinning hair as a result of hyperthyroidism is more diffuse and happens uniformly on the scalp and body, hypothyroidism can cause sufferers to lose the outer edges of their eyebrows (Hint: See a doc ASAP if you experience this-not only for your bod's sake, but for the sake of your beautiful brows, too).
9. Your eyes are bulging
Have you ever seen photos online of people with seriously bulging eyes? They're probably suffering from Graves' disease, a type of hyperthyroidism, which can cause the eyes to appear open in a wide-eyed stare. An extra accumulation of tissue behind the eyes is to blame for this, giving the peepers a puffed-out look.
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