“It’s important for people to know and recognize the symptoms of thyroid disease, especially women,” says Dr. Mehul Vora, an endocrinologist with Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill.
As many as 20 million Americans have thyroid disease, and at least half remain undiagnosed, according to the American Thyroid Association.
“Unfortunately, the most common symptoms of thyroid disease – things like extreme exhaustion or unexpected weight gain or loss – are easily overlooked or attributed to stress or lifestyle,” Dr. Vora says.
Below, Dr. Vora offers insight into three less common symptoms to which women should pay special attention.
The thyroid’s primary job is to produce hormones and regulate your body’s metabolism. In women, it can also affect the menstrual cycle.
Hypothyroidism (when the thyroid is not working hard enough) can cause periods to be longer, heavier and more painful than usual. On the flip side, hyperthyroidism (when the thyroid is working too hard) can cause lighter periods or even stop them altogether.
“The risk of thyroid problems increases as a person ages, so unfortunately, women can easily mistake these symptoms as menopausal,” says Dr. Vora. “In younger women, unaddressed issues can also affect their fertility and ability to get pregnant.”
Mood issues & brain fog
Mood swings, anxiety and depression can be worsened by an abnormal thyroid level. An underactive thyroid can also cause forgetfulness or “brain fog,” making it hard to focus in your daily life. An overactive thyroid can make you anxious and cause palpitations or an irregular heartbeat.
“If you’re struggling with fatigue or depression, are feeling distracted and forgetful, or if you show any other symptoms such as weight gain or excessive weight loss, your thyroid could be playing a role,” says Dr. Vora. “A simple blood test by your physician may give you answers.”
A slow thyroid isn’t producing as much hormone as it should, and this can cause trouble in your gut in the form of constipation. If your thyroid is too active, it can have the opposite effect, causing diarrhea and frequent trips to the bathroom.
“Constipation can be caused by a huge number of things, so you shouldn’t jump to conclusions and assume you have thyroid problems from the start,” says Dr. Vora. “If, however, the constipation or diarrhea is an ongoing problem, you should discuss it with your doctor so you can get to the bottom of it.”