One of the most important parts of our bodies is also one of the smallest ones. The thyroid, butterfly-shaped gland on the front of the neck below the Adam’s apple, releases hormones that have a huge impact on metabolism, among other processes.
About 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, according to American Thyroid Association estimates. More than 12 percent of Americans will develop a thyroid condition, and around 60 percent don’t know they have a problem. “People with mild thyroid failure have no symptoms at all and only blood tests can show it,” Dr. Yoram Shenker from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, who specializes in endocrinology, diabetes, metabolism and hypertension, says.
Doctors can’t definitively point the causes. “There is a genetic component to it,” he says. “It usually runs in the family but there are also a lot of people who don’t have this family history.” The most common cause, he says, is an autoimmune disease – when the body's immune system attacks healthy cells – but a lot of other factors can contribute.
Just as there are many aspects to what affects the thyroid gland, there are multiple signs that it’s not working right. Again, none of them are definitive. A very common symptom is fatigue. But “there are 300 million Americans and 200 million of them are tired,” Dr. Shenker says. “The vast majority don’t have a thyroid problem.”
Symptoms are not specific. “The more of them you have, the more likely you are to have a thyroid condition,” Dr. Shenker says. Women are five to eight times more likely than men to develop a thyroid condition, and it happens when they are around 30-35 years old. “But really, it can happen to anyone at any age.”
The first symptom of Hypothyroidism (not enough thyroid hormone) doctors mention is feeling very tired all the time. If you have no energy in the morning even though you slept well, your thyroid may be underactive. Managing fatigue can take time and low energy can continue for a while.
2. Feeling anxious or unhappy
Your thyroid may be producing too much (hyperthyroidism) or too little thyroid hormone. If you feel like you just can’t relax no matter what you do or that you are never in a good mood, your thyroid may be to blame. In case your thyroid is overactive, you may experience nervousness, rapid heartbeat, hand tremor, excessive sweating, and weight loss, among other symptoms.