15 subtle signs of a thyroid condition

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The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located on the front of the neck just below the Adam's apple. It plays a huge role in our body, influencing the function of many of our most important organs. "Thyroid disorders that affect the production of thyroid hormone (thyroxine) often present with subtle signs and symptoms. Thyroid hormone regulates metabolism and therefore, metabolic rate," says Jane Renfro, M. S., Ph. D. "There are several thyroid disorders that affect the amount of thyroid hormone produced. Those that increase production of thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) accelerate metabolism while those that impair thyroid production (hypothyroidism) depress metabolism." 

Approximately 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, and up to 60 percent of people with the disease are unaware that they have the condition, according to the American Thyroid Association (ATA). Women are more likely than men to develop the disorder.

It's extremely important to educate yourself on the signs of a thyroid condition. You may be suffering from the disorder and not know it. If you have noticed changes in your weight, mental responsiveness, sleep pattern, heart rate or blood pressure, it would be wise to check in with your doctor.

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Blood Pressure or Heart Rate Changes

If you're suffering from a thyroid condition, you may notice increased or decreased metabolism. "Increased metabolism increases blood pressure and heart rate to increase the delivery of blood flow (increase delivery of oxygen and nutrients in support of increased metabolism and remove waste products resulting from increased metabolism)," Renfro says. "Conversely, decreased metabolism lowers blood pressure and heart rate."

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Changes in Mental Responsiveness

Mental responsiveness may be changed due to the thyroid hormones' influence on the effects of catecholamines (e.g., adrenalin). You may notice "increased nervousness and anxiety that cannot be attributed to other mental or physical stressors," Renfro says. Conversely, lethargy, apathy, and fatigue may be noticed in an individual who is not depressed or overwhelmed, she adds.

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Changes in Tolerance to Environmental Temperature

"Decreased tolerance to a warm external environment is associated with an increase in internal temperature. Increased metabolic rate will increase body temperature leading the individual to think it is too hot," Renfro says. "Conversely, decreased tolerance to a cool external environment is associated with a decrease in internal temperature. Decreased metabolic rate will lower body temperature leading the individual to think it is too cold."

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Cold Hands and Feet

This is an uncomfortable symptom of an underactive thyroid. According to research, "low thyroid activity can be associated with too much homocysteine - an amino acid associated with heart disease, poor blood flow, and stiff vasculature." Essential nutrients carried into the blood are not reaching the extremities as frequently, and this ultimately results in cold hands and feet.

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Delayed Puberty

This is a subtle sign, common in children. During puberty one may experience changes in thyroid function. It's important to get your child's thyroid tested during this time, as diagnosing it late can lead to further complications such as incomplete isosexual precocity and delay in puberty.

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Dry Skin

Thyroid issues may affect the sweat- and oil-producing glands, leading to dry skin, research shows. An underactive thyroid slows the metabolic rate and affects the skin's ability to grow and repair itself, while an overactive thyroid increases blood flow to the skin and may result in itchiness, studies have found.

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High Cholesterol

Your thyroid hormones control your body's metabolism, which in turn can affect cholesterol levels. "When thyroid hormone levels are low and TSH levels are increased (hypothyroidism), cholesterol levels are increased," according to Thyroid.org.

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Hoarse Voice

If you have noticed your voice has become hoarse, this may be because your thyroid nodule may be pressing on your voice box. The larger your thyroid gets the more difficulty you will have with your speech.

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Infrequent Bowel Movements

"Individuals who have an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, may experience constipation," Michelle Hyman, MS, RD says. "Although many people think they are constipated if they have less than one bowel movement per day, a medically accepted definition of constipation is three or fewer bowel movements per week."

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Menstrual Cycle Changes

"Individuals with thyroid dysfunction may experience infrequent or absent periods, periods shorter in duration and/or lighter in bleeding, or on the other end of the spectrum, heavier bleeding and longer cycles," Hyman says.

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Muscle or Joint Pain

If you're experiencing muscle or join pain, cramping and weakness, this may be a subtle sign of a thyroid condition. According to Verywell Health, "some experts speculate that the thyroxine (T4) deficiency seen in hypothyroidism leads to abnormal oxidative metabolism, which ultimately causes muscle injury and impaired muscle function."

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Puffy Face

Are you wondering where your cheekbones went? You may be suffering from thyroid complications. Low thyroid function can lead to a decrease in body temperature which in turn may lead to fluid retention or bloating.

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Sleep Changes

"If you've always been able to sleep through the night, but are now struggling, it could be due to a thyroid problem," says Caleb Backe, Health & Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics. "If you have an overactive thyroid, it means you're producing an excess of triiodothyronine and thyroxine. This can overstimulate your nervous system and prevent you from falling asleep or even staying asleep."

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Thinning Hair

If you have noticed your hair thinning, especially in your eyebrows, this may be a sign that you have a thyroid problem. "An over- or underactive thyroid disrupts your hair growth cycle. Usually, hair grows while a small part rests," Backe says. "When you have a thyroid problem, too much hair rests at one time. This causes your hair to look thinner."

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Weight Fluctuation

One of the major signs of a thyroid condition is "unintentional weight loss or weight gain that cannot be attributed to changes in diet, exercise, or fluid retention," says Jane Renfro, M. S., Ph. D. "Weight loss results from an increased metabolism which accelerates the breakdown of fats and carbohydrates stored by the body. Conversely, weight gain results from a slowed metabolism which results in conserving and storing fats and carbohydrates." Some medical conditions can be frightening until you speak with a doctor and figure out a wellness plan. Here are some of the silent killer diseases in America - and how to avoid each one.

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