Who knew a tiny, butterfly-shaped gland in our necks could wreak so much havoc in our bodies? Weighing under an ounce, the thyroid gland plays a crucial role in regulating our metabolism. When it produces too few hormones, hypothyroidism can result.
What are the symptoms of low thyroid?
What are these symptoms exactly? Let’s take a look at them one at a time. It all starts with perhaps the most common sign of this disorder…
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism.
What is Fatigue?
Fatigue is more than just feeling a little tired; it is an overall feeling of exhaustion. That can include a lack of motivation as well as a lack of energy in both physical and mental capacities. Weariness, listlessness, and feeling “run down” all the time are ways people commonly describe their fatigue.
Why Does Hypothyroidism Cause Fatigue?
Energy production in the body requires a certain amount of thyroid hormones. When there is an underproduction of the required hormones, as is the case with hypothyroidism, energy levels drop. This drop causes you to feel overly tired and weak most, if not all, of the time.
Signs of Fatigue
Signs that you are suffering from fatigue possibly caused by hypothyroidism include:
- A feeling of exhaustion that is debilitating
- Impairment of your daily functioning
- A need to take frequent naps
- Waking up in a fog
- Feeling unrested even though you slept all night
- You remain exhausted regardless of how much you sleep
This loss of energy can also lead to the next symptom of hypothyroidism…
9. Weight Gain
Weight gain is another common symptom of hypothyroidism. As already mentioned, the thyroid plays a crucial role in our metabolism. It’s no wonder then that hypothyroidism leads to weight gain.
What is Weight Gain?
We all know what weight gain is. We feel ourselves getting heavier, and our clothes no longer fit the way they used to.
Why Does Hypothyroidism Cause Weight Gain?
Thyroid hormones assist in the regulation of body weight by helping to break down fat in the body. When there is a decrease in the level of thyroid hormones, as is the case with hypothyroidism, the body stores calories as fat. When this storage occurs, it can be difficult to burn them off, or metabolize them.
In other words, fewer calories are being converted into energy. The result? They are instead stored as fat, leading to weight gain.
Signs of Weight Gain Caused by Hypothyroidism
People with hypothyroidism may notice weight gain in the following ways:
- Face becomes puffy
- Extra weight around the stomach area
- Extra weight around different parts of the body
Depending on how severe the hypothyroidism is, weight gain of generally 5-10 pounds of total body weight is attributed to the thyroid deficiency. This weight gain may worsen the sensation of the following symptom of hypothyroidism…
8. Muscle and Joint Discomfort
Frequent muscle and joint discomfort are other common symptoms of hypothyroidism. This discomfort includes muscle weakness and cramps.
What is Muscle and Joint Discomfort?
Muscle discomfort can be a feeling of soreness, pain, or stiffness in the muscles. For example, it may feel as if you’ve exercised or used your muscles in other strenuous ways, even if you haven’t. Muscles may even feel tender, weak, and burning.
Wherever two or more bones meet, forming a joint in the body, pain and discomfort ranging from mild to debilitating can occur. This joint discomfort may arise from any part of a joint, such as the ligaments, tendons, cartilage, bone, or muscles.
Why Does Hypothyroidism Cause Muscle and Joint Discomfort?
Slowed metabolism, leading to low energy levels, can lead to muscle and joint soreness, aches, weakness, and even cramps. Those with advanced hypothyroidism may even experience fluid building up in their joints. This buildup can cause swelling, which may lead to pain.
Signs of Muscle and Joint Discomfort
There are many signs of muscle and joint discomfort. These signs include:
- Burning sensation in muscles
- Aches or pain in muscles
- Tenderness or weakness in muscles
- Stiffness or tightness in muscles
- Swelling in the hands and feet where the small joints are located
- Joint pain from mild to debilitating (acute or chronic)
- Knee pain
- Shoulder pain
- Hip pain
- Ankle pain
This symptom may therefore present difficulty with:
- Climbing stairs
- Grasping items with your fingers or hands
- Raising your arms over your head
Severe Manifestations of this Symptom
In addition, hypothyroidism may cause even severe muscle discomfort. Some of these complications can include:
- Hoffman’s syndrome, in which a person develops enlarged muscles, called diffuse muscle hypertrophy. This condition leads to severe muscle weakness, pain, and stiffness.
- Rhabdomyolysis, a rare condition that causes rapid muscle breakdown and requires immediate medical attention.
- There is also a link between thyroid disorder and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which causes painful swelling of the joints.
The following symptom rarely leads to severe complications, although it can make everyday life much more unpleasant…
Digestion is yet another process that can slow down due to hypothyroidism. When digestive processes slow, constipation can occur.
What is Constipation?
Constipation occurs when bowel movements become infrequent and you have difficulty passing stools. You may also feel as if you are unable to evacuate the rectum fully.
Why Does Hypothyroidism Cause Constipation?
With fewer thyroid hormones, everything in the digestive tract moves much more slowly. Why? It all has to do with how the digestive tract functions.
You see, the digestive tract is lined with muscles, including inside the large and small intestines. In order to move waste through the digestive tract, these muscles need to contract to push the stool all the way through to the rectum.
With hypothyroidism, the muscle contractions can weaken, causing slow movement of stool through the digestive tract. This slowing, in turn, causes constipation.
Signs of Constipation
The signs and symptoms of constipation include:
- Fewer bowel movements
- Straining to have a bowel movement
- Small and hard stools
- Feeling as if you are unable to empty rectum
While constipation can be uncomfortable, the following sign of low thyroid can be downright alarming…
6. Slow Heart Rate
Hypothyroidism can also affect the cardiovascular system by reducing your heart rate, referred to as bradycardia.
What is Bradycardia?
A slow or reduced heart rate is called bradycardia. Now, the normal heart rate for most people is 60-100 beats per minute. When your heart rate is less than 60 beats per minute, it is considered slow.
Why Does Hypothyroidism Cause Bradycardia?
Due to the reduced level of thyroid hormones, heart muscles pump less powerfully and will weaken.
Signs of Bradycardia
Bradycardia may not cause symptoms at all in some people. For others, the brain and other organs may not receive enough oxygen, which can cause any of the following:
- Fainting or near fainting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- Memory issues or confusion
The Dangers of Bradycardia
The pumping ability of the heart may slow, and this slowing will reduce the blood flow to vital parts of the body, including the brain, skin, and kidneys. In turn, the risk of heart failure increases, particularly for older women.
The following complication of hypothyroidism can also have devastating consequences…
5. Elevated Levels of Total and LDL Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a substance in the blood that helps build healthy cells. Now, there is “good” and “bad” cholesterol. When the bad cholesterol, or LDL, is elevated, your total cholesterol becomes elevated. This elevation is yet another symptom of hypothyroidism.
What are Elevated Levels of Total and LDL Cholesterol?
Your total cholesterol count contains both good and bad cholesterol. When the bad cholesterol (LDL, or low-density lipoproteins) is too high, total cholesterol elevates, too.
High cholesterol is no joke. Elevated levels of total and LDL cholesterol can lead to clogged arteries, heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
Why Does Hypothyroidism Cause Elevated Cholesterol Levels?
Your body requires thyroid hormones to not only make cholesterol but also to rid the body of any cholesterol not needed. Therefore, due to the lower level of thyroid hormones associated with hypothyroidism, the body is unable to break down and remove all the bad (LDL) cholesterol as well as it normally would. There may subsequently be a buildup of LDL cholesterol in the blood, causing your total cholesterol levels to rise.
Signs of Elevated Cholesterol
High cholesterol has no outward symptoms. Only a blood test will confirm these elevated levels. However, the following complications can arise from high cholesterol:
- Heart attack
- Peripheral artery disease
The following sign of hypothyroidism? It’s downright chilling…
4. Cold Intolerance
Your body temperature is regulated by the thyroid. So, if you experience intolerance to cold temperatures, you may have hypothyroidism.
What is Cold Intolerance?
An intolerance to cold is when you feel cold most, if not all, of the time. You may also have a low tolerance for cold environments.
Why Does Hypothyroidism Cause Cold Intolerance?
Hypothyroidism slows down the metabolism, and a slowing metabolism results in a drop in core body temperature. Specifically, cells slow down, which means they burn less energy. Less burning energy means the body produces less heat.
Signs of Cold Intolerance
Common signs of cold intolerance include:
- Cold hands or cold feet
- Hands or feet turn blue
- You’re often cold when others around you are comfortable
- Adding extra layers of clothing or blankets doesn’t help
- Tip of your nose is cold
The constant feeling of coldness can persist in warm rooms and even in summer months. Now, while this symptom is felt, the following is something everyone may be able to see…
3. Hair Loss
We all lose some of our hair. When it becomes excessive and doesn’t grow back, however, it may be another sign that you have hypothyroidism.
What is Hair Loss?
Hair loss can occur when weak hair easily breaks or falls out; it happens without effort on your part.
Why Does Hypothyroidism Cause Hair Loss?
Thyroid hormones are vital for the health and growth of your hair follicles. With hypothyroidism, the production of fewer thyroid hormones leads to less healthy hair follicles and less growth. Therefore, hair may fall out and not be replaced with new hair.
Signs of Hair Loss
Signs of hair loss include:
- Loss of hair and little or no regrowth on scalp
- Thinning hairline
- Loss of hair in eyebrows
- Loss or no regrowth of leg hair
- Loss or no regrowth of hair on other body parts
Closely related to hair loss is the following unfortunate symptom…
2. Dry Skin and Brittle Nails
Low thyroid hormone production can affect the skin and nails, causing them to become dry and brittle.
What are Dry Skin and Brittle Nails?
Dry skin is a condition where not enough moisture is present in the skin; it presents as scaly, itchy, and cracking skin. Brittle nails are dry, thin, or soft in structure. They often split, break, or peel off.
Why Does Hypothyroidism Cause Dry Skin and Brittle Nails?
Due to the slowing of metabolism, the body’s ability to sweat is reduced. Importantly, sweating is a natural moisturizer for the skin. Without it, skin becomes flaky and dry, and fingernails and toenails become brittle.
Signs of Dry Skin and Brittle Nails
- Dry patches of skin or all-over dryness
- Coarse or rough feel to your skin
- Scaly skin
- Itchy skin
- Flaking of the scalp
- Cracked and dry heels
- Thin nails that easily break
Of course, low thyroid doesn’t just affect the body; it can affect the mind as well…
1. Negative Effects on Cognition and Mental Health
Thyroid hormones play an enormous role in regulating our mental processes, as well as our physical health.
What are Mental Health and Cognition Effects?
Effects on mental mental health and cognition can present in the form of:
- Memory loss
- Concentration loss
- Slower thinking
- Slower speech capability
Why Does Hypothyroidism Affect the Brain?
Our brains also require thyroid hormones in order to function effectively. With a low production of these hormones, the brain is affected, and in turn, our mental processes may suffer.
Signs of this Symptom
As mentioned above, signs that mental processes are being affected include:
- Memory loss
- Inability to concentrate as well as usual
- Slower thinking and speech
What should someone do if they think they may have hypothyroidism?…
Knowing the importance of thyroid hormones and how they affect your body is key to keeping you healthy. After all, with thyroid dysfunction, several areas of the body are affected. The result? Possibly the following:
- Weight gain
- Muscle and joint discomfort
- Reduced heart rate
- Elevated cholesterol
- Cold intolerance
- Hair loss
- Dry skin and brittle nails
- Mental effects, such as depression, anxiety and loss of memory
How Severe are these Symptoms?
Those with hypothyroidism may have all or just a few of these symptoms. Each symptom varies based on how severe the deficiency of thyroid hormones has become. Another important factor in determining these symptoms’ severity? The amount of time the body has been deprived of an adequate supply of these crucial hormones.
What to Do Next
If you suspect hypothyroidism, the next step is to make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will evaluate your condition and run some blood tests. These tests will determine if you do indeed have hypothyroidism and how severe it is. Prescribed medication is often the preferred method of treatment.
While hypothyroidism is no fun, it can be managed so you can live your life to the fullest.