Health & Medicine

Signs of stress may reveal thyroid problems

Leera Patel
Leera Patel

Daily stress can often lead to common ailments like fatigue or restlessness, weight gain or weight loss, irritability and depression. But what may seem like simple signs of stress and aging could actually be symptoms of a thyroid disorder.

January is Thyroid Awareness Month, a time to better understand thyroid problems that negatively affect more than 20 million Americans.

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of the neck. As part of an intricate network of glands called the endocrine system, the thyroid gland helps to regulate some of our most important organs, including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin, by producing thyroid hormones.

Thyroid hormones control your metabolism, including how fast you burn calories and how fast your heart beats. These hormones are made from iodine extracted from your diet, found in foods like table salt, seafood, bread and milk.

When the thyroid produces incorrect levels of thyroid hormones, it can lead to diseases like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. These disorders are often caused by underlying autoimmune diseases that affect hormone production.

Hypothyroidism refers to an underactive thyroid, which slows down your body systems due to decreased thyroid hormone levels. Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include forgetfulness or fatigue, weight gain, difficulty sleeping, and muscle or joint pain.

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease, in which the immune system makes antibodies that destroy thyroid cells and stop them from making thyroid hormones.

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid is overactive and produces excessive amounts of the thyroid hormones, sending your body systems into overdrive. Symptoms can include weight loss, excessive hunger, rapid or irregular heartbeat, sweating, irritability, hyperactivity, restlessness and insomnia.

A common cause of hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune condition called Graves’ disease, in which the immune system creates an antibody that causes the thyroid gland to make an excessive amount of thyroid hormones.

If symptoms are present, a doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical examination to look for signs of a thyroid disorder. Blood work will reveal hormone levels and help diagnose the problem. If a thyroid issue is present, you may be referred to an endocrinologist, whose specialty is the body’s glandular or endocrine system.

Once diagnosed, a physician will likely prescribe medications to correct hormonal balance in the body. Each case is different, so finding the proper dose may require adjustments. The medications often take time to take effect.

Visit your primary care provider if you are experiencing symptoms of a thyroid disorder.

Dr. Leera Patel is with KentuckyOne Health Endocrinology Associates.