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Signs of Thyroid Problems: Hyperthyroidism & Hypothyroidism
Updated on November 4, 2022
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Signs of Thyroid Problems: Hyperthyroidism & Hypothyroidism

The thyroid gland is a small organ located at the base of your neck. It wraps around your windpipe or trachea and is responsible for producing thyroid hormones.1

Our in-house medical reviewer, Dr. Rizza Mira, says it is regulated by the pituitary gland to make hormones that “enable every single cell in the body to work.”

This makes the thyroid gland essential to every function in the human body.

Signs of Thyroid Problems: Hyperthyroidism & Hypothyroidism 2

Your thyroid gland controls your metabolism, stimulates the growth and development of body organs, and manages their function. It creates hormones called Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4).

These hormones control how much energy your body’s cells should use. They also influence essential body functions, such as temperature regulation and heart rate. 

A properly working thyroid produces enough hormones to keep your body functioning well.

What Is Thyroid Disease?

Thyroid disease is an umbrella term for medical conditions that affect the thyroid’s normal hormone production. When the thyroid malfunctions, it can lead to one of two conditions:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperthyroidism

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Who Is Affected By Thyroid Disease?

Thyroid disease can affect anyone regardless of age and gender. According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), around 20 million people in the U.S. have a thyroid disorder.2

Thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism can be present at birth. A person may also develop it from exposure to risk factors, or if they’re genetically predisposed to the condition.

Certain people can be at higher risk. For example, thyroid problems often occur in women after menopause or when they’re aged 60 or older. 

Women are also 5 to 8 times more likely to develop thyroid disorders than men.2,3

Other factors that can increase your risk are:2

  • A family history of thyroid disorder
  • Some diseases (e.g., pernicious anemia, type 1 diabetes, and lupus)
  • Taking a medication high in iodine (e.g., amiodarone)
  • Past treatments for thyroid conditions or cancer (e.g., thyroidectomy and radiation)
  • Diet high in goitrogens (e.g., brocolli, cabbage, kale, cassava, and turnips)
  • Iodine deficiency

Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)

Hypothyroidism is a health condition where your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. This slows down your metabolism.

Left untreated, it can result in health problems like obesity and joint pain.4 In the long run, the condition can affect the heart and brain. 

Common Hypothyroidism Symptoms

You may not notice symptoms at the beginning. Symptoms may also vary depending on how severe your hypothyroidism is.

Some signs of an underactive thyroid include:

  • Feeling tired
  • Intolerance to cold temperatures
  • Poor memory
  • Heavy menstruation 
  • Coarse hair and dry skin
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Constipation
  • Puffy face
  • Weight gain
  • High blood cholesterol level
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Hair loss
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Depression
  • Goiter or enlarged thyroid gland

Hypothyroidism in Infants

Infants with congenital hypothyroidism may show subtle signs. Symptoms may also progress slowly. 

“Because there are no obvious signs of congenital hypothyroidism at birth, newborns are screened using a blood sample for this disorder. Left untreated, the condition can affect neurological functioning and may lead to lifetime morbidity.”

Babies with low thyroid hormones may show these signs and symptoms:

  • Yellow skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • A large and protruding tongue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hoarse-sounding cries
  • A belly button that sticks out too far (umbilical hernia)
  • Poor appetite
  • Feeding problems

Hypothyroidism in Children & Teenagers

Children and teens with an underactive thyroid may show similar symptoms to adults with the same condition. In addition, they will experience symptoms of delayed development.4

The signs of hypothyroidism in children and adolescents are:

  • Slow physical growth (e.g., short height)
  • Delayed eruption of adult teeth
  • Poor brain development

Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid)

Sometimes the thyroid may release too many hormones. It can cause your body to burn energy more quickly. This condition is known as an overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism.1

Common Hyperthyroidism Symptoms

Hyperthyroidism can cause a range of symptoms. But it’s unlikely you’ll experience all of them. 

Symptoms may develop gradually or appear suddenly. The severity of these symptoms may also vary for each person.5 

Here are some signs of hyperthyroidism:

  • Feeling nervous, anxious, and irritable most of the time
  • Having a hard time staying still
  • Weight loss
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling sensitive to heat
  • Muscle weakness and tremors 
  • Diarrhea
  • Peeing more often than usual
  • Feeling thirsty
  • Itchiness
  • Loss of interest in sex

Hyperthyroidism in Infants

Congenital hyperthyroidism is rare but can be life-threatening. It’s common in babies born to mothers with Graves disease. 

“Unlike hypothyroidism, high levels of thyroid hormones in newborns is temporary. It’s often caused by the passage of excess hormones from mother to child,” says Dr. Mira.

More than 95% of these babies show symptoms in their first month. Sometimes, the signs don’t appear until their second month.6

Common signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism in infants are:

  • Failure to gain weight
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Appearing irritated
  • Struggling to feed
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormally fast heartbeat
  • Protruding eyes
  • Congenital goiter
  • Prominent forehead (frontal bossing)
  • Small head size

The severity of these symptoms and how soon they appear depend on whether the mother is taking antithyroid medications.

Babies who are born to mothers taking antithyroid medications may not show signs until the drugs are metabolized. But if the mother isn’t on medications, the newborn may show signs.

Infants born with hyperthyroidism usually recover at the age of 6 months. The condition rarely lasts longer.

Hyperthyroidism in Children & Teenagers

More than 90% of hyperthyroidism cases in children and adolescents are due to Graves disease. About 80% occur during puberty when the risk of Graves is higher.6

Other causes are inflammation of the thyroid gland, infection, or the use of certain drugs.

An overactive thyroid usually doesn’t affect puberty. But pubescent girls may experience irregular menstruation or not menstruate at all (amenorrhea).

It can also cause growth-related issues, like advanced growth and bone aging. 

Other signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism in kids and teens are:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Unable to stay still
  • Emotional lability or quick and intense change in mood
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Declining school performance
  • Feeling overly warm
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea

Thyroid Issues In Women

Women have a higher chance of developing thyroid disease than men. According to statistics, 1 out of 8 women develops a thyroid problem in her life.

Dr. Mira explains that thyroid problems occur more in women than in men because of their autoimmune nature.

Thyroid issues may cause these problems in reproductive women:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Absent menstruation (amenorrhea)
  • Difficulty getting pregnant
  • Getting pregnant
  • Health issues during pregnancy
  • Early menopause

How To Tell If You Have Thyroid Problems

Thyroid disease can be hard to diagnose based on symptoms alone. You might confuse them with other conditions with similar signs. 

It’s best that you seek medical help from your doctor or a healthcare professional. They can help diagnose thyroid disorders with the proper tests.

Certain blood tests can help determine if thyroid disease is causing your symptoms. For example, a thyroid panel can check the level of your thyroid hormones:

  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
  • Free T3
  • Free T4 

The doctor will compare your results to the normal range of people with the same age. It can help them assess how well your thyroid gland is functioning.8

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Resources

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  1. Thyroid Disease.” Cleveland Clinic.
  2. General Information/Press Room.” American Thyroid Association (ATA).
  3. The thyroid gland in postmenopausal women: physiology and diseases.” Menopause Review.
  4. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).” Mayo Clinic.
  5. Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).” NHS UK.
  6. Hyperthyroidism in Infants and Children.” MSD MANUAL.
  7. “Monica C. Skarulis, M.D., Chief Clinical Endocrine Section, Director Inter-Institute Endocrine Training Program.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
  8. Understanding thyroid tests.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Dr. Rizza Mira
Dr. Rizza Mira
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Rizza Mira is a medical doctor and a general practitioner who specializes in pediatrics, nutrition, dietetics, and public health.

As a pediatrician, she is dedicated to the general health and well-being of children and expecting parents. She believes that good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and prevention of illness are key to ensuring the health of children and their families.

When she’s not in the hospital, Rizza advocates and mobilizes causes like breastfeeding, vaccination drives, and initiatives to prevent illness in the community.
Cristine Santander
Cristine Santander
Content Contributor
Cristine Santander is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Psychology and enjoys writing about health and wellness.
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