There are many reasons a person can feel tired all the time, but one that’s important to consider is the activity of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck, below your Adam’s apple. It makes a hormone that controls your metabolism and can sometimes affect your energy.
Thyroid disease is very common, with an estimated 20 million people in the U.S. having some type of thyroid disorder. A woman is about five to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with a thyroid condition than a man.
Thyroid disease can affect anyone — men, women, infants, teenagers, and the elderly. It can be present at birth, and it can develop as you age, especially after menopause in women.
Too Much or Too Little
Your thyroid gland can cause problems when it produces too much thyroid hormone, called hyperthyroidism, or too little hormone, which is known as hypothyroidism. Both conditions, when left untreated, can have a negative impact on your energy, your heart, digestion, and fertility. The challenge is that when it comes to symptoms, many people with too much or too little thyroid hormone have very few symptoms.
Hypothyroidism occurs most often in women over age 60. Untreated hypothyroidism can weaken or slow your heart, making you feel tired or out of breath when you exercise. It can also cause obesity, joint pain, high blood pressure, swelling in your ankles, as well as raise your cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk for heart problems. The most common symptom of hypothyroidism is feeling tired. Additional symptoms include:
- Becoming cold easily
- Changes in hair texture
Hyperthyroidism is also more common in women. Some people with hyperthyroidism may have swelling in the neck, called a “goiter.” When hyperthyroidism is caused by a medical problem called Graves’ disease, the condition can also make the eyes bulge. With hyperthyroidism, a person often feels anxious, irritable, and may have difficulty sleeping. Additional symptoms include:
- Weakness in the arms and thighs that makes it difficult to lift heavy things or climb stairs
- Sweating and difficulty with hot weather
- Fast or uneven heart beats
- Feeling tired
- Weight loss while eating normally
- Frequent bowel movements
Without treatment, hyperthyroidism can cause a heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation. In women, hyperthyroidism can also disrupt monthly periods and impact fertility. In men, it can cause breast enlargement and lead to sexual difficulties.
Detecting and Treating
Fortunately, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. There are also effective treatments for both conditions.
- Hypothyroidism – Your doctor will likely treat you with a daily thyroid hormone pill to supplement the underactivity of your thyroid gland. After several weeks of treatment, your doctor will test your blood again to make sure the thyroid hormone levels are at sufficient levels. Because there are many different brands and generic forms of thyroid hormone, it is important to stick to the one your doctor prescribes. Switching medications can cause thyroid levels to fluctuate. Taking too much thyroid hormone can cause heart rhythm problems and may even damage your bones over time.
- Hyperthyroidism – Your doctor may prescribe anti-thyroid or beta-blocker medicines to reduce your symptoms.
Many of the symptoms of thyroid disease look like symptoms of other common conditions, and these may be easy to ignore for a time. However, if you have any of the symptoms above for longer than two weeks, it’s advised to have those checked by your doctor.
Dr. Scott Segel is an endocrinologist with UPMC in North Central Pa. He sees patients at UPMC Endocrinology, 1100 Grampian Blvd., Williamsport. For more information on services available, visit UPMC.com.