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Could You Have a Thyroid Issue and Not Know It?

Could You Have a Thyroid Issue and Not Know It?

For such a small organ, the hormone-producing thyroid gland has a big job regulating numerous metabolic processes in the body. From hair loss, weight gain, mood changes and trouble sleeping to itchy skin and flaky nails – your thyroid plays a role in the way you look, feel and work. And if it isn’t functioning properly, you could face a domino effect of significant health issues. Where it gets tricky is that it can be hard to know that your thyroid isn’t working just right because many symptoms are often attributed to aging or other conditions.

Both of the main thyroid disorders – hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism – disproportionately affect women, who are 5 to 8 times more likely to be affected at some point in their lives. Despite its prevalence, it’s estimated that 60% of people don’t know they have a thyroid issue.

While you can be diagnosed at any age, it’s more common in women between 30 and 45 years old, those who have recently given birth or who are going through menopause. A small percentage of women experience postpartum thyroiditis, which first presents an overactive thyroid, then transitions to an underactive thyroid. This often resolves on its own, but does need to be monitored to ensure it doesn’t lead to a more permanent issue.

Hypothyroidism, when your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones, is far more common than hyperthyroidism, which is when you make too much thyroid hormone. Up to 10% of women are diagnosed with hypothyroidism during their lifetime, while only about 1% of people will have hyperthyroidism. However, many thyroid issues are caused by autoimmune conditions which can create temporary swings from one condition to the other.

Hyperthyroidism, while more rare, may be easier to spot based on its symptoms. This can include unexpected weight loss, increased hunger, rapid or irregular heartbeat, sweating, and mood issues. With hypothyroidism though, you may not even notice any symptoms in the early stage. And when you start to notice things like fatigue and weight gain, it can be easy to chalk it up to something else, especially as a busy woman balancing family, work, and life in general. But, as the condition continues to progress other symptoms may occur like hair loss, constipation, a raspy voice, muscle weakness and sensitivity to cold.

Developing a thyroid condition is connected to your autoimmune system, and while it’s not known exactly why women are more susceptible, it’s believed that women have a more complex or vigilant immune response than men. Hormonal fluctuations during this age range, like those during pregnancy or perimenopause, can also create thyroid imbalances.

There is no way to prevent thyroid issues, but getting annual physicals and lab work is the best way to keep tabs on any potential red flags. It’s also important to listen to your body, and make the time to get a check-up if something feels off.