It's estimated that 20 million Americans suffer from a thyroid disorder, yet between 40% and 60% of people don't know they have one. When you consider everything the thyroid controls, including energy production and metabolism throughout the body (which affects the heart, brain, skin, bowels, and body temperature), you can understand why your thyroid has such a big impact on your health and happiness.
Diagnosing Thyroid Disorders
The wide variety of symptoms associated with thyroid disorders explains why they often remain undiagnosed. "Hypothyroidism—low hormone levels—in particular, is often misdiagnosed, its symptoms resembling those of other diseases or mistaken for 'normal' effects of aging," explains personal health writer Jane Brody for The New York Times.
Similarly, many people may lack the obvious symptoms of the opposite condition, hyperthyroidism, and also remain undiagnosed. What's more, these disorders tend to disproportionally affect women and the elderly; one in five women aged 60 and older have some form of thyroid disease.
Since symptoms of thyroid dysfunction tend to vary so widely from person to person and develop slowly over time, "doctors may not recognize them as a problem warranting exploration and treatment," she explains. Coupled with the fact that routine blood tests often fail to pick up on discrepancies in thyroid hormones, that 40% to 60% figure begins to make sense.
Thyroid Disorder Symptoms
If you suspect you have an issue with your thyroid, Brody recommends looking out for the following symptoms:
- Excessive fatigue
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Unexplained weight gain
- Sleep problems
- Mental fogginess
- Issues conceiving or staying pregnant in women
- Heart palpitations
- Unexplained weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Anxiety or irritability
- Mood swings
- Panic attacks
In order to detect an issue with thyroid hormones, doctors must test for "thyroxine and triiodothyronine produced by the thyroid itself, and for [the] thyroid-stimulating hormone TSH, also called thyrotropin, produced by the pituitary gland to regulate the thyroid," concludes Brody.
Eating iodine-rich foods like eggs, sea vegetables like kelp, fish, shellfish, and unpasteurized dairy products can help stimulate production of these important hormones.