20 signs your thyroid isn't working right

Crabby, gaining weight, and unable to concentrate? It could be a problem with that little gland in your neck.
Health.com // Health.com

The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, can have a dramatic impact on a huge variety of bodily functions, and if you're a woman over 35 your odds of a thyroid disorder are high—more than 30%, by some estimates.

At least 30 million Americans have a thyroid disorder and half—15 million—are silent sufferers who are undiagnosed, according to The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Women are as much as 10 times as likely as men to have a thyroid problem, says integrative medicine specialist Robin Miller, MD, co-author of The Smart Woman’s Guide to MidLife & Beyond.

--By Anne Krueger, Health.com

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Thyroid 101

Located below the Adam's apple, your thyroid produces thyroid hormone (TH), which regulates, among other things, your body's temperature, metabolism, and heartbeat. Things can start to go wrong when your thyroid is under- or over-active. If it's sluggish, it produces too little TH; amped-up and it produces too much. What causes your thyroid to go haywire? It could be genetics, an autoimmune attack, pregnancy, stress, nutritional deficiencies, or toxins in the environment, but experts aren't entirely sure. Because of thyroid hormones far reach in the body—from brain to bowels—diagnosing a disorder can be challenging. Here's how to tell if your thyroid could be on the blink.

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You're exhausted

Feeling tired and having no energy are issues associated with lots of conditions, but they're strongly linked with hypothyroidism, the disorder that's the result of too little thyroid hormone. If you're still tired in the morning or all day after a full night's sleep, that's a clue that your thyroid may be underactive. Too little thyroid hormone coursing through your bloodstream and cells means your muscles aren't getting that get-going signal. “Fatigue is the number one symptom I see,” says Dr. Miller. “It’s the kind of fatigue where you’re still tired in the morning after a full night’s sleep—that’s a clue that you’re not simply sleep deprived; your thyroid may be underactive.”

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You're feeling down

Feeling unusually depressed or sad can also be a symptom of hypothyroidism. Why? It's thought that the production of too little thyroid hormone can have an impact on levels of "feel good" serotonin in the brain. With an underactive thyroid turning other body systems down to "low," it's not surprising that your mood might sink there, too.

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You feel jittery and anxious

Anxiety and "feeling wired" are associated with hyperthyroidism, when the thyroid gland is making too much thyroid hormone. Flooded with consistent "all systems go" messages, your metabolism and whole body may spin into overdrive. If you feel like you just can't relax, your thyroid may be "hyper."

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Your appetite or taste buds are altered

An increased appetite can be a sign of hyperthyroidism when too much thyroid hormone may have you feeling hungry all of the time. The only upside is that the "hyper" part of the disorder typically offsets the caloric impact of an increased appetite so the end result isn't weight gain.

An underactive thyroid, on the other hand, can mess with your sense of taste and smell.

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Your brain feels fuzzy

Sure, it could be caused by sleep deprivation or aging, but cognitive functioning can take a hit when your thyroid is out of whack. Too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) can cause difficulty concentrating and too little (hypothyroidism) may cause forgetfulness and general brain fog. “When we treat patients for hypothyroidism, they are often surprised at how fast their brain fog goes away and how much sharper they feel,” Dr. Miller says. “Many women think it’s just something that comes along with menopause when it really is a sign of a thyroid problem.”

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You've lost your interest in sex

Having little or no desire in the sack could be a side effect of a thyroid disorder. Too little thyroid hormone could be a contributor to a low libido, but the cumulative impact of other hypothyroidism symptoms—weight gain, low energy, and body aches and pains—could also play a part.

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You're feeling all fluttery

That fluttery feeling you're having may be heart palpitations. It can feel like your heart is actually fluttering or skipping a beat or two, or beating too hard or too quickly. You may notice these feelings in your chest or at pulse points in your throat or neck. Heart flutters or palpitations can be a sign of too many thyroid hormones flooding your system (hyperthyroidism).

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Your skin is dry

Skin that's dry and itchy can be a symptom of hypothyroidism. The change in skin texture and appearance is probably due to slowed metabolism (caused by too little thyroid hormone production), which can reduce sweating. Skin without enough moisture can quickly become dry and flaky. Likewise, nails can become brittle and may develop ridges.

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