Feeling out of alignment can signal thyroid trouble

Your thyroid – a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck, just below your Adam’s apple – is charged with regulating your body’s metabolism. When out of whack, this small gland can radically affect your health, causing symptoms ranging from subtle to severe.

Regulating the thyroid is crucial to keeping your body in balance.

The most typical thyroid conditions are hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), which is marked by an overproduction of thyroid hormones, and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), triggered by insufficient hormone production.

Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. This disease, which runs in families, commonly occurs in women and men between the ages of 30 and 50.

Women age 50 and older are at greater risk for hypothyroidism. But anyone can develop hypothyroidism, especially those who have an autoimmune disease or are related closely to someone with an autoimmune disease; those who have received radiation to the neck and upper chest area; and those who have had thyroid surgery previously. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – an autoimmune disease – is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, the symptoms for which tend to unfold slowly over the course of years.

Following are a list of the main symptoms related to two types of thyroid imbalances:

Hyperthyroidism

  • Nervousness
  • Irritability or anxiety
  • Rapid or irregular heart beat
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increased frequency of bowel movements
  • Less frequent menstrual periods, with lighter-than-usual flow
  • Hair loss
  • Trembling in hands and fingers
  • Increased sensitivity to heat
  • Weight loss with or without increase in food consumption

Hypothyroidism

  • Fatigue
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Heavier than usual periods
  • Pale, dry skin
  • Puffy face
  • Brittle fingernails and hair
  • Hoarseness
  • Higher than usual cholesterol level

January is National Thyroid Awareness Month, and a good time to get your thyroid levels checked with a simple blood test. If you’re a woman age 20 or older who has a family history of thyroid imbalance or who has any of the symptoms listed above, talk to your provider about getting a test. If you’re 30 or older, don’t have a family history or symptoms of a thyroid imbalance, you can still request a test – but you likely won’t need to be tested again for five years.