Someone once told my wife that when God was giving out thyroids, she and the ladies on her side of the family were in the back of the line. They didn’t get good ones. She, her mom and her sister have all had their thyroid surgically removed due to large multinodular goiter (in other words, a large, funny-looking thyroid). So, they have to take replacement thyroid medicine daily. What would happen if they didn’t take the medicine? Good question. They’d have the signs and symptoms of having low (or really no) thyroid activity. How about you? Chances are you still have your thyroid. But what happens when it’s not working optimally?
Anybody can have low thyroid levels but it’s most common in women between ages 40 and 60. For guys and girls, it’s worth getting hormones, including thyroid levels, checked as early as your 20’s or 30’s, but I’d also say it’s never too late to get them checked. The American Thyroid Association recommends baseline screening for thyroid at age 35 then every 5 years thereafter. There are other societies like the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians that recommend initial screening at an older age but I would argue for earlier screening because if you do have thyroid issues, intervention can be started before disease becomes irreversible. For example, a very low thyroid or a very high thyroid can cause heart disease. It would be better to catch this before it causes irreversible damage – soscreen for it earlier rather than later.
So, what are the signs and symptoms of a low thyroid? There are several, and most of them are not specific to having low thyroid. Now there’s a really good chance you have something on the list, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your thyroid is low – it just means it’s something worth checking. When I was in med school, every time we went over some new disease, I was convinced that either I or those around me had it because of the signs and symptoms list. The same thing happens to you when you go to Doctor Google to look something up – hands down, the top hit on your search will always be something terrible and you’ll think the end is near! All I’m saying is whether it’s this list or Doctor Google or whatever else, take the signs and symptoms list as a clue getting you one step closer to a diagnosis – it’s not a diagnosis in itself!
If you have hair loss, cold intolerance and an unfavorable lipid profile (specifically elevated cholesterol and triglycerides) then get checked out for a low thyroid. This trio can be pretty specific to thyroid issues. Otherwise, signs and symptoms include (get ready, it’s a long list!): muscle weakness, joint pain, slow Achilles tendon reflex, weight gain, dry skin, decreased sweating, slow pulse, low blood pressure, low basal body temperature, thinning hair, pasty skin, brittle fingernails, allergic disorders, fatigue, menstrual irregularities, recurrent infections, hoarseness, constipation, headaches, enlarged thyroid (goiter), slow speech, fluid retention, having tooth indentations on your tongue, fluid retention, tingling or numbness in the extremities, infertility, low sex drive, depressed mood, mood swings, reduced concentration, brain fog, sleep issues, and memory decline.
There you have it. Chances are you or someone you know had something or several things on that list. It’s not an emergency, but it’s worth getting it checked out by a healthcare provider sometime. As healthcare providers, not only are we trying to alleviate symptoms by optimizing thyroid levels but also prevent long term health issues. The two biggest ones we watch for with thyroid levels that are either too low or too high are heart disease (including atrial fibrillation) and weakened bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis). You may never see the effects, but I sleep better at night if I know, for example, I lowered your risk for a hip fracture later in life or prevented you from having a debilitating heart attack.
If your thyroid really is low, you’d be amazed at the difference getting it back up to normal would make! Talk to your healthcare provider and take charge of your health!
Dr. Thomas is a board-certified physician who operates Complete Health Integrative Wellness Clinic and Thomas Urology Clinic in Starkville, Mississippi.
This blog post is for informational purposes only and is, under no circumstances, intended to constitute medical advice or to create or continue a physician-patient relationship. If you have a medical emergency, you should immediately seek care from your nearest emergency room, and if you have specific health questions, you should consult your own physician.