Subtle Symptoms of an Underactive Thyroid

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits just below your larynx (voice box) in the front of your neck. Though the thyroid is small, the hormone it produces can have a significant impact on your gastrointestinal tract, brain, skin, heart, muscles, blood vessels and metabolism.

Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) is a condition that affects more than 20 million Americans, with women eight times more likely to suffer from it than men. But because the symptoms of hypothyroidism can be subtle, it’s estimated that a whopping 60% of people with an underactive thyroid don’t even know they have it!

Here are subtle symptoms of hypothyroidism. If you develop these symptoms, a simple blood test can determine if your thyroid is functioning normally or not.

1. Depression

Patients who experience fatigue, moodiness, irritability and sleep dysfunction are often diagnosed with depression and treated with antidepressants. However, an underactive thyroid can be the cause of all of these symptoms. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to have your thyroid tested, since it’s a commonly-missed diagnosis that improves not with antidepressants, but with medication that helps your thyroid begin to function normally.

2. Weight Gain

There are lots of reasons why people gain weight, including pregnancy, lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, inclement weather, or holiday and vacation splurges. However, weight gain, as well as difficulty losing weight, can be a subtle symptom that your thyroid isn’t functioning properly, which causes your metabolism to slow down. If you experience weight gain — especially if it’s unexplained — it’s important to have your thyroid checked.

3. Heavy Menstrual Periods

Low levels of thyroid hormone cause a delay in the breakdown of estrogen as well as a decrease in clotting factors, which means that many women with an underactive thyroid experience heavier-than-normal periods. Since this diagnosis is often mistakenly attributed to other factors, it’s important for women experiencing heavy periods to have their thyroid checked. With appropriate treatment, your thyroid (and your periods!) will often go back to normal.

4. Dry Skin

Not only does hypothyroidism slow down your metabolism; it also slows down the release of oil from the oil glands in your skin, leading to extremely dry, irritated, chapped skin. It can also cause your nails and hair to become brittle. If you develop these symptoms, it’s important to have your thyroid checked, since hypothyroidism is a commonly-missed diagnosis in patients suffering from skin, nail and hair problems.

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