Signs and symptoms of a thyroid imbalance

In this article, we cover signs and symptoms of a thyroid imbalance in women, including signs of an overactive thyroid and an underactive thyroid. Women are more likely to experience thyroid issues than men. 

Key takeaways:

  • The thyroid is an endocrine (hormone) gland situated at the front of the neck.
  • This gland’s job is to take in iodine and create the thyroid hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). 
  • The thyroid regulates the metabolism of the body. The thyroid, therefore, plays an important role in body weight, energy levels and body temperature, but also in regulating your menstrual cycles, maintaining your heart rate and much more.
  • Common signs of an underactive thyroid include cold hands and feet, weight gain, low energy, depression and more. 
  • Common signs of an overactive thyroid include anxiety, poor sleep, weight loss, irritability and more. 
  • Imbalances in the thyroid can mimic hormone imbalances; therefore, testing is vital.

So let’s start with answering: what is the thyroid gland?

The thyroid is an endocrine (hormone) gland that is situated at the front of the neck. When the gland is at its normal size, you won’t be able to feel it. This gland’s job is to take in iodine and create the thyroid hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) with help from the enzyme thyroid peroxidase.

The thyroid gland is vital for your health because one of its main roles in regulating the body’s metabolism. The thyroid, therefore, plays an important role in body weight, energy levels and body temperature, but also in regulating your menstrual cycles, maintaining your heart rate and much more. 

The thyroid hormones are released into the bloodstream based on the body’s needs; for example, during pregnancy, the body needs to provide both the mother and baby with sufficient thyroid hormone.

To keep these hormones in balance, the brain (specifically the hypothalamus and pituitary gland) communicates to the thyroid gland to regulate the release of T4 and T3.

What are the common signs and symptoms of an underactive thyroid?

  • Cold extremities
  • Weight gain 
  • Exhaustion 
  • Depression and other mood issues
  • Constipation 
  • Dry skin 
  • Heavy periods 
  • Irregular periods 

These common signs of an underactive thyroid may suggest hypothyroidism. This means too little thyroid hormone is produced from the thyroid gland. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease (or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), an autoimmune condition.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary greatly depending on the levels of thyroid hormone present. It is important that the thyroid is tested as it can often be confused for sex hormone imbalance.

Related article: The Thyroid and Your Menstrual Cycle.

What are the common signs of an overactive thyroid?

  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety 
  • Hyperactivity 
  • Highly irritable 
  • Sweating 
  • Irregular and absent periods 
  • PMS 
  • Infertility 

These common signs of an underactive thyroid may suggest hyperthyroidism. This is when there is too much thyroid hormone being released from the thyroid gland. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves disease.

Why does the thyroid get out of balance?

It is important to understand if your thyroid imbalance has an autoimmune component (e.g., Hashimoto’s or Graves disease), but there are also other reasons why your thyroid may be out of balance, including thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland), genetic predisposition, iodine deficiency, other nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, stress, the environment, exercise, infection, gut imbalance, viruses, medication use, pregnancy and more. 

When the thyroid is out of balance, it is important to address the root cause.

Commonly the thyroid is out of balance due to genetic predisposition – influenced by the environment – partnered with a potential leaky gut.

Each individual is different, and this is why testing and delving into your health history in a consultation is so important to discover what the root cause of imbalance may be for you.

Why is the thyroid so important for hormone health?

So often, thyroid issues are undiagnosed as they are mistaken as a sex hormone imbalance. This can be the other way around, and the true cause of hormone imbalance may be your thyroid. The thyroid communicates with the brain, adrenal glands, and ovaries; therefore, any disruption in this pathway can cause hormone imbalance.

Hypothyroidism, the most common type of thyroid imbalance, can affect your sex hormones in the following ways:

  • It directly leads to a lack of ovulation and therefore unopposed oestrogen 
  • It increases prolactin production, resulting in lack of ovulation 
  • It decreases our ability to clear oestrogen and thus leads to excess oestrogen 
  • It increases our risk for PCOS because it can cause or worsen insulin resistance

This can lead to symptoms such as irregular periods, heavy periods, PMS and other mood issues discussed above.

Therefore it is vital to test your thyroid health whenever you address any hormonal complaint to ensure the thyroid is not the root cause of your symptoms.

References:

Chaker, L., Bianco, A. C., Jonklaas, J., & Peeters, R. P. (2017). Hypothyroidism. Lancet (London, England), 390(10101), 1550–1562. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(17)30703-1

InformedHealth.org [2017].Underactive thyroid: Overview. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279601/

Koehler, V. F., Reincke, M., & Spitzweg, C. (2018). Hypothyreose – wann und wie behandeln? [Hypothyroidism-when and how to treat?]. Der Internist, 59(7), 644–653. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00108-018-0438-x

Kravets I. (2016). Hyperthyroidism: Diagnosis and Treatment. American family physician, 93(5), 363–370.

Ross, D. S., Burch, H. B., Cooper, D. S., Greenlee, M. C., Laurberg, P., Maia, A. L., Rivkees, S. A., Samuels, M., Sosa, J. A., Stan, M. N., & Walter, M. A. (2016). 2016 American Thyroid Association Guidelines for Diagnosis and Management of Hyperthyroidism and Other Causes of Thyrotoxicosis. Thyroid: official journal of the American Thyroid Association, 26(10), 1343–1421. https://doi.org/10.1089/thy.2016.0229

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