The thyroid is like your gossipy but beloved friend: happy to be involved in everybody’s business. It produces hormones that regulate metabolism, heart rate, and body temp and has a hand in bone health, GI function, mood, fertility, and more. So if the little guy goes rogue? Less than ideal, as you can imagine.
These days, it seems as if everyone and their mother thinks they have a thyroid issue—likely because these disorders have vague symptoms, at-home test kits make it easy to gather data on your own, and there’s more social media dialogue about hormone health (and wellness in general!). The result? Properly diagnosing and treating thyroid problems becomes dicey, especially when people take matters into their own hands, says Disha Narang, MD. There’s a “culture of misinformation” with thyroid health, she adds.
Still, these problems are a very real issue for a whopping one in eight women—making this modern primer to the gregarious gland a must-read. Consider any confusion cleared.
How To Tell If You Actually Have A Thyroid Issue
If something is off with your thyroid, the alert may be more like a gentle ping than a ringing cowbell. That’s because many symptoms, especially in hypothyroidism, are nonspecific. Meaning: They could easily be chalked up to other factors, like sleep-deprived nights or skimping on whole foods.
So how the heck would you know? Your doc’s ears will perk up if you have not only one but a cluster of the signs below; if symptoms are persistent and new; and/or if you have a family history of thyroid issues or autoimmune disease. You can then chat with your physician about whether to get yours tested. No matter what, you deserve answers.
Signs Of Hypothyroidism
Are you wrapped in a blanket? Hypothyroidism tends to make people feel chilly, sluggish, achy, and bummed out. Hypo sometimes leads to weight gain. Also watch for unpredictable or heavy periods, dry, flaky skin, and thinning hair all over your head (rather than in patches).
- Feeling cold all the time
- Low energy
- Body aches
- Low mood
- Weight gain
- Heavy or unpredictable periods
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair
Signs Of Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, is like putting that podcast on superspeed. Instead of the chatter being faster, it’s your heart that flutters, metabolism that revs (cue: weight loss), and appetite and body temp that increase. You may not sleep well and may have frequent loose bowel movements.
- Rapid heart rate
- Weight loss
- Heightened appetite
- Feeling warm all the time
- Sleep issues
- Diarrhea or loose bowel movements
4 Thyroid Myths To Stop Believing Right Now
There’s a lot of social-media and celeb BS about interventions, especially when it comes to food and supplements. We’ve got the scoop.
Fact: Healthy Eating Should Do
There are no diets proven to cure thyroid disease, says Dr. Lowe—including commonly promoted soy- or gluten-free ones. Still feel best eliminating a food? Do you! Otherwise, maintain a balanced whole foods–based plan.
Fact: There’s Enough in Food
Thyroid cells use iodine to do their job. “You need enough, but not too much,” says Dr. Lowe. Her advice: Get it from seafood, dairy, and seaweed. Skip “thyroid-supporting” supps, as some contain high doses.
Fact: Only If You Eat Bushels of Them
There is data that cruciferous veggies can alter thyroid levels due to their natural iodine, but you’d have to eat them all day, every day, says Dr. Narang. A regimen with kale salads and roasted broccoli is totally safe.
Fact: A Healthy Lifestyle Matters But Doesn’t Repair an Off Thyroid
Sleep, nutrition, and exercise are (of course!) important for your overall well-being. But “there’s no evidence that natural solutions work to cure thyroid issues,” says Dr. Narang.
How To Get Your Thyroid Function Tested
Thyroid screening is an easy-peasy blood test that your PCP can order. At-home kits are also available, says Hyesoo Lowe, MD. You’ll have to see your doc for interpretation of results in either scenario, she notes. (With direct-to-consumer kits, a physician generally reviews your results before they’re sent to you, and the company also provides resources to help you understand them—but insight from an IRL doc is still a must.)
Normal thyroid? Time to explore what else is making you feel not-so-great. Abnormal result? Your provider will guide treatment. One note: If you’re taking a supplement with biotin (hair and nail pills!), stop it two or three days before a thyroid workup. Biotin doesn’t affect thyroid function, but it does impact TSH numbers and skews results, Dr. Lowe says. Noted!
How Your Thyroid Health Impacts Fertility
And the Oscar for best supporting role in having a baby goes to…your thyroid! Dysfunction can play a part in irregular ovulation and cycle frequency and affect the uterine lining where implantation occurs—making it harder to conceive or carry.
Sapna Shah, MD, was diagnosed with infertility-associated hypothyroidism herself. “I had been an endocrinologist for a long time, yet I wasn’t aware that it was going on in my body,” she says. “Since then, I’ve been on a mission to help people understand more about their reproductive and thyroid health.”
If you’re trying to expand your fam or having a hard time conceiving, talk to your ob-gyn about your thyroid. You may have to maintain specific TSH ranges to maximize chances for baby.
When It Makes Sense To Take Thyroid Medication
Treatment is the go-to solve. Still, an Rx should *only* be used when blood tests show a thyroid disorder. Sounds obvious, but people offered medication from a doc (or taking someone else’s) when they have normal function has “led to more ICU admissions than I can count,” says Dr. Narang. Before you take on a daily pill, know these facts.
1. Not everybody needs them
“There are new ways of thinking about who needs to be treated,” says Dr. Lowe. For mild cases, particularly if you feel fine (but, say, a blood test suggests you’re borderline low), your doctor may opt to keep tabs on your levels before adding an Rx down the line. But if you are thinking of getting pregnant within the next five years, your doctor will likely recommend starting treatment to top off levels for fertility.
2. They’re high-maintenance
These medications require you to take them first thing in the morning, 30 minutes before eating food or drinking coffee, and four hours before any iron, fiber, or calcium supps, or consuming soy—all of which interfere with absorption, says Stephanie Smooke Praw, MD. Not a dealbreaker, of course. Just be on your A game (like with a BC pill).
3. They can’t undo bad habits
Sleeping only five hours a night? “No amount of thyroid medication is going to fix fatigue,” says Dr. Narang. Reevaluate behaviors that might be contributing to your probs to support the work that meds will do.
Meet the experts: Disha Narang, MD, endocrinologist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital; Sapna Shah, MD, endocrinologist with Paloma Health;nHyesoo Lowe, MD, is the medical director of the Columbia Thyroid Center; Stephanie Smooke Praw, MD, director of endocrinology education at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Women’s Health.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io