What are the Symptoms of an Overactive or Underactive Thyroid?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that plays a crucial role in regulating metabolism. When the thyroid gland becomes overactive or underactive, it can lead to a variety of symptoms. These symptoms can vary in intensity and may include:

Symptoms of an Overactive Thyroid (Hyperthyroidism): Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces an excessive amount of thyroid hormones, leading to an increase in metabolic activity. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism may include:

  • Weight Loss: Unexplained and rapid weight loss, despite increased appetite.
  • Rapid Heartbeat: Palpitations, increased heart rate, and abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).
  • Nervousness and Anxiety: Feeling jittery, anxious, or nervous.
  • Tremors: Shaking or trembling in the hands and fingers.
  • Heat Intolerance: Sensitivity to heat, excessive sweating, and an inability to tolerate warm temperatures.
  • Increased Bowel Movements: Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea.
  • Fatigue: Paradoxically, some individuals may experience fatigue despite increased metabolic activity.
  • Muscle Weakness: Weakness, particularly in the upper arms and thighs.
  • Excessive Thirst: Increased thirst and more frequent urination.
  • Changes in Menstrual Patterns: Irregular menstrual periods or the absence of menstruation (amenorrhea).
  • Eye Changes: In Graves’ disease (an autoimmune cause of hyperthyroidism), eye symptoms may occur, such as bulging eyes (exophthalmos) or eye irritation.

Symptoms of an Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism): Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones, slowing down metabolic processes. Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include:

  • Fatigue: Profound tiredness and low energy levels.
  • Weight Gain: Unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
  • Cold Sensitivity: Feeling excessively cold, even in normal temperatures.
  • Constipation: Sluggish bowel movements and constipation.
  • Dry Skin: Dry and pale skin, which may become coarse or scaly.
  • Hair and Nail Changes: Hair loss, thinning hair, and brittle nails.
  • Hoarseness: A hoarse or deepened voice.
  • Muscle and Joint Pain: Muscle aches, stiffness, and joint pain.
  • Depression: Low mood, depression, and cognitive impairment.
  • Menstrual Irregularities: Irregular or heavy menstrual periods.
  • Swelling: Swelling, particularly in the face (myxedema) or around the eyes (periorbital edema).

It’s important to note that not everyone with an overactive or underactive thyroid will experience all these symptoms, and the severity can vary. Thyroid disorders may be diagnosed through blood tests measuring thyroid hormone levels (TSH, T3, T4), and treatment may include medication to normalize thyroid hormone levels. If you suspect you have a thyroid disorder or are experiencing symptoms, consult a healthcare provider for evaluation, diagnosis, and appropriate management. Thyroid disorders are usually manageable with proper treatment and monitoring.