Hypothyroidism, also known as underactive thyroid or low thyroid, is a disorder in which the thyroid gland is not able to produce an adequate amount of the hormone called thyroxine.
This hormone plays a role in major bodily functions – how your body uses energy, regulates body temperature and digests food, to name a few. A low level of thyroid hormones in the body can interfere with these and other functions.
There can be several reasons why the thyroid gland is not making enough hormones, including autoimmune diseases (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and atrophic thyroiditis), surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid gland, radiation treatment, congenital hypothyroidism that a baby is born with, inflammation of the thyroid gland, intake of too much or too little iodine, any kind of damage to the pituitary gland and side effects of certain medicines.
About 4.6 percent of the United States population suffers from underactive thyroid. The risk for developing hypothyroidism is higher in women over age 50 and postpartum females.
Thyroid problems are easily identified with a simple blood test and can often be fixed with the right medicines.
But most cases of hypothyroidism remain undiagnosed because the early symptoms are diverse and easily ignored.
If you have multiple signs and symptoms of this problem, ask your doctor to check your thyroid hormone levels.
Also Read – 10 Best Foods to Improve an Underactive Thyroid
Here are the top 10 signs that you have an underactive thyroid.
1. Unexplained Weight Gain
Weight gain without any change in diet or physical activity may indicate low levels of thyroid hormones. These hormones help regulate basal metabolism and thermogenesis as well as the metabolism of fats and glucose.
An underactive thyroid contributes to a lower metabolic rate, which may cause excess weight gain.
A 2008 study published in the Saudi Medical Journal notes that overall thyroid dysfunction was found more often in overweight people with varying degree of significance.
However, more detailed studies are needed to find out the exact cause and effect relationship between obesity and hypothyroidism.
If you have unexplained weight gain, it is essential to consult your doctor to determine the exact cause.
2. Dry and Flaky Skin
If you are following your usual beauty and skin care regimen and haven’t changed any of the products you use but your skin is dry and itchy, it could be a symptom of hypothyroidism.
The change in skin texture and appearance can be due to reduced blood circulation, one of the side effects of having low thyroid hormones.
In addition, a slowed metabolism due to low thyroid hormone production can reduce sweating. Without proper sweating, the skin becomes dry and flaky.
Along with dry skin, there may be facial puffiness (especially near the eyelids) and thickened skin on the lower legs with a pale or yellowish appearance.
A 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology notes that the most common cutaneous feature in patients with hypothyroidism is coarse, rough and dry skin.
As these skin signs are rather nonspecific and often subtle, people tend to ignore them or attribute them to other causes. It is best to consult your doctor to see if there is an underlying health condition causing these skin changes.
3. Muscle Soreness and Pain
People suffering from hypothyroidism often experience muscle weakness, pain, stiffness, or cramping. There may also be general joint pain.
Low metabolism disrupts how your body burns energy, which can affect how your muscles feel after doing your regular exercises. Low thyroid often increases inflammation that may be contributing to your muscle and joint pain.
A 2000 study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry notes that neuromuscular symptoms and signs were present in most patients having thyroid problems.
In fact, about 40 percent of the hypothyroid patients had predominantly sensory signs of a sensorimotor axonal neuropathy early in the course of thyroid disease.
For unexplained muscle aches and pains, consult your doctor to rule out the possibility of an undiagnosed thyroid problem or other health issues.
4. Hair Loss
Proper functioning of the thyroid gland is essential for the development and maintenance of the hair follicles, and an underactive thyroid can result in significant changes in hair growth and texture. It may also affect eyebrows and body hair.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reports that thyroid hormones directly affect hair follicles.
The thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) modulate several aspects of hair anatomy, from the hair growth cycle to the hair’s pigmentation.
Another 2008 study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology notes that among the thyroid disorders, hypothyroidism is often associated with alopecia areata.
The study also put emphasis on screening for thyroid abnormalities in patients with chronic, recurrent and extensive alopecia areata.
If you are worried about hair loss and other hair-related issues, see your doctor to get your thyroid checked.
5. Constant Fatigue and Tiredness
Fatigue and extreme tiredness are very common in people who have an underactive thyroid. When low thyroid hormones flow through the blood, cells do not function properly, leading to less energy, fatigue and constant tiredness. These symptoms persist even after getting proper sleep and rest.
A 2012 study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology notes that autoimmune hypothyroidism patients had significantly higher levels of fatigue as compared with differentiated thyroid carcinoma patients.
In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers noted that people with hypothyroidism undergoing 12 weeks of thyroxine treatment saw a reduction in their tiredness, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and body weight.
As tiredness, constant fatigue, sleepiness and lack of energy are associated with many conditions, it is important to consult your doctor to find out the exact reason.
6. Menstrual and Fertility Problems
Women with hypothyroidism may experience menstrual as well as fertility problems. Thyroid hormones have a great influence on menstruation, pregnancy, lactation and even uterine involution after childbirth.
Low thyroid function can lead to changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle length and blood flow. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of India notes that thyroid dysfunction is an important causative etiology of menstrual abnormalities.
In fact, the study puts emphasis on the assessment of thyroid function in all patients with menstrual disorders to avoid unnecessary interventions like curettage and hysterectomy.
Infertility can also be due to undiagnosed thyroid conditions.
A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Applied Basic Medical Research reports that hypothyroidism can affect fertility due to anovulatory cycles, luteal phase defects, hyperprolactinemia and sex hormone imbalance.
With simple, oral hypothyroidism treatment for 3 months to 1 year, asymptomatic infertile women can improve their chances to conceive.
For any change in menstrual pattern as well as problems becoming pregnant, it is important to get your thyroid checked.
7. High Cholesterol Levels
Underactive thyroid can also cause high cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of developing heart disease.
A lack of adequate thyroid hormones in the body negatively affects the body’s ability to break down and clear cholesterol from the bloodstream.
Thus, it can increase your LDL (or ‘bad’ cholesterol) and reduce your high-density lipoprotein (HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol) levels.
A 2011 study published in the Open Cardiovascular Medicine Journal notes that thyroid dysfunction can have an important effect on lipid profile.
The study gives emphasis on biochemical screening for thyroid dysfunction in all dyslipidemic patients, as well as in all patients with unexpected improvement or worsening of their lipid profile.
When low thyroid function is treated with medicines, cholesterol often will return to normal levels.
8. Constipation and Indigestion
If you suffer from constipation, indigestion or even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it could be due to an underlying thyroid problem.
Due to low thyroid function, muscles lining the digestive tract including the small and large intestines become weak. This causes the stool to move too slowly through the intestine, leading to constipation.
A 2009 study published in Gastroenterology Research and Practice notes that as hypothyroidism prominently decreases gastro-esophageal motility, thyroid function should be evaluated in people who complain of dyspepsia (indigestion).
Severe or long-term constipation that occurs despite adequate fiber intake is often linked to hypothyroidism, and it is recommended to consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
9. Poor Concentration and Memory
If you have started forgetting things and you are having difficulty concentrating, it could be due to low thyroid function.
An underactive thyroid may lead to forgetfulness, poor memory and lack of concentration as an inadequate amount of these hormones can cause misfiring in your neurotransmitters.
Low thyroid can even lead to stress or poor sleep, which in turn can trigger temporary brain fog. However, hypothyroidism cannot lead to permanent cognitive dysfunction, and with proper treatment these issues can be resolved.
Poor memory and brain fog can also signal the onset of other mental health problems, such as depression, so it is important to consult your doctor to find out the exact cause.
10. Increased Sensitivity to Cold
The thyroid gland works as an internal thermostat for your body, as it helps to regulate body heat. Due to too little thyroid hormone production, the body burns less energy causing a decrease in body temperature and increased cold intolerance. The person may feel cold even in a warm environment.
In fact, people with hypothyroidism are at a higher risk of suffering from hypothermia, a life-threatening condition when exposed to cold temperatures.
If you feel cold on a warm, sunny day, get your thyroid levels checked as you may be suffering from hypothyroidism.
Increased sensitivity to cold can also be due to other conditions, including anemia and impaired circulation, which your doctor can also check for.