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When your thyroid is functioning properly, your health blossoms. When it isn’t, the effects on your health can be more widespread than you’d ever imagine.
So even though this butterfly-shaped gland — located in front of your windpipe and just below your larynx or Adam’s apple — is small, it’s important to give it big attention.
The main job of the thyroid is to control your metabolism, your body’s ability to break down food and convert it into energy. In order to do this, it secretes two different hormones known as T3 and T4.
An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can cause you to overheat, sweat more and lose weight. It can also make your heart beat faster.
On the other hand, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) does the opposite. You might feel cold, gain weight and experience a slower heartbeat.
An overactive thyroid can also result in a goiter, an extremely enlarged thyroid gland that can press on other structures and make breathing and swallowing difficult.
But there are also less obvious signs of thyroid trouble that you should be aware of…
Possible signs of thyroid disease
- Brain fog. When a slow thyroid doesn’t send the usual stream of hormones to the brain, you may find it difficult to concentrate. You may have trouble remembering even simple things.
- Mood changes. Depression is often the first sign of a thyroid problem. It’s most often linked to hypothyroidism, while anxiety is more common with hyperthyroidism.
- Puffy face. If your face looks doughy or swollen, it could be due to the extra fluid your body is retaining because your thyroid isn’t working correctly. Usually, it’s in the eyelids, lips and tongue.
- Blurry vision. Sometimes extra fluid builds up in the tissues around your eyes and can make the muscles that control your eyes get bigger. As a result, you might find that you have trouble focusing or double vision.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. Fluid can build up in your hands and wrists, too. When the tunnel of soft tissue near your wrist swells from too much fluid, it places pressure on the nerves that travel through that tunnel… the numbness, tingling and weakness of carpal tunnel syndrome is the result.
- Low libido. Your metabolism controls the organs that produce sex hormones. When your thyroid slows down, so does your metabolism. The production of those sex hormones slows way down, and your libido can do the same.
- Hair loss. This is usually only a problem for severe and ongoing thyroid disorders. But if you’re noticing changes in the overall thickness of your hair, or are starting to see more scalp, a thyroid disorder could be the reason.
- High blood pressure. Both an underactive and overactive thyroid can lead to hypertension, but for different reasons. Hypothyroidism can cause your blood vessels to become less flexible, making it harder for your heart to move blood to all the parts of your body. An overactive thyroid can exert force that makes your heart beat faster and raise your blood pressure.
- Bowel troubles. Oddly enough, low thyroid function can cause either constipation or more frequent bowel movements. Runny, loose stools are also a possible symptom.
How to protect your thyroid
Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoke has a variety of toxins that may affect your thyroid. Thiocyanate, in particular, disrupts iodine uptake, which in turn can block the production of thyroid hormones.
Do a thyroid neck check. Just like a breast exam, this simple self-check will alert you to any potential problems, so you can bring them to your doctor’s attention.
Talk to your doctor about a selenium supplement. The thyroid has the highest concentration of selenium in the body. Too little selenium is associated with hypothyroidism and difficulty producing thyroid hormones.
Look out for perchlorates. Perchlorates are odorless, colorless salts that dissolve in water and have contaminated water supplies in various parts of the United States. High levels of perchlorates can keep your thyroid from absorbing iodine, which it must have in order to function. If you use well water, it’s probably a good idea to have your water tested for perchlorate contamination.