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Women’s health

Thyroid symptoms: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism explained

The thyroid is a gland that sits at the bottom of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. Its main job is to secrete hormones (called T3 and T4) that are responsible for growth, metabolism and regulate body functions.

But what regulates your thyroid gland? The pituitary gland (located in your brain) secretes thyroid-stimulate hormone (TSH). If your body has enough T3 and T4 hormones, the production of TSH stops — and restarts again when there isn’t enough. When the production of TSH isn’t working properly, it can cause problems or diseases. Thyroid issues are more common in women than men.

The most common thyroid diseases are:

  • Hyperthyroidism — over-active thyroid or too much thyroid hormone
  • Hypothyroidism — under-active thyroid or too little thyroid hormone

Other diseases can occur when there’s a problem with the thyroid gland itself. These include:

  • Goitre — enlarged thyroid gland that can go untreated
  • Thyroid nodules
  • Thyroid cancer

The good news is that thyroid diseases are usually treatable and can be managed with proper care.

Hypothyroidism vs. hyperthyroidism: causes and symptoms

When it comes to thyroid symptoms, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be polar opposites; but there are some similarities too.

 

Hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid)

Hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid)

Differences:

Slow metabolism (due to low levels of T3 and T4)

Speedy metabolism (due to high levels of T3 and T4)

Slow, weak pulse

Rapid, strong pulse, palpitations

Fatigue

Sleeplessness

Sluggish body and mind, poor memory

Restless, nervous, agitated, hand tremors

Sensitive to cold

Sensitive to heat, sweaty

Dry and scaly, or thick and puffy skin

Bulged out, puffy, intense stare, teary eyes

Depressed mood

Anxious mood

Constipation

Frequent bowel movements, diarrhea

High blood cholesterol levels

High blood pressure

Hair loss

Bone loss or osteoporosis

Heavy, prolonged or increased menstruation

Light, reduced or stropped menstruation

Weight gain, feeling bloated, retaining water

Weight loss (even with increased appetite)

 

Similarities:

Trouble concentrating

Trouble concentrating

Muscle weakness, aches and pains

Muscle weakness, aches and pains

Enlarged thyroid (goitre)

Enlarged thyroid (goitre)

 

If left untreated:

Myxedema (a rare and severe form of hypothyroidism), symptoms can include:

  • Low body temperature
  • Heart failure — cannot pump enough blood to meet needs
  • Myxedema coma can occur if person also experiences infections, trauma, cold temperatures or has been given/taken sedatives

Thyroid storm (extremely overactive thyroid), symptoms can include:

  • Confusion
  • Coma
  • Fever
  • Enlarged liver and jaundice
  • Shock
  • Irregular heartbeat causing death

 

Common causes:

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis — your body destroys thyroid tissue and eventually stops producing hormones
  • Thyroid removed or destroyed
  • Excessive amounts of iodine
  • Taking certain medications (like lithium)
  • Graves’ disease — too much thyroid hormone is produced
  • Toxic adenomas — nodules on thyroid secrete thyroid hormone
  • Thyroiditis — thyroid gland is inflamed and secretes thyroid hormone
  • Cancerous growths on thyroid gland

Not everyone experiences the same thyroid symptoms. And these symptoms don’t just point to a thyroid condition. Any number of conditions may cause them.

Want more information and support? Search “thyroid” in Find Support for organizations in your area.

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
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