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Do You Have a Thyroid Problem?
Guidelines on How to Find Out

by Mary Shomon

Many people wonder if they have a thyroid condition. You may be finding it hard to lose weight, and are wondering if it's your thyroid. Or you may have other symptoms that suggest a possible thyroid problem.

Thyroid conditions are not always diagnosed easily. Symptoms such as fatigue, weight changes, depression, and muscle aches, for example, are similar to many other conditions and diseases. Or they may be attributed by patients or doctors as due to stress, menopause, age, lifestyle, etc. And because thyroid disease affects women far more often than men, and frequently appears during periods of hormonal fluctuation (i.e., pregnancy, post-partum, and menopause) they are very easily overlooked, because symptoms such as weight gain and exhaustion and often associated with pregnancy and menopause as well.

Thyroid conditions that are autoimmune in nature also frequently surface during periods of physical or emotional stress, such as death of someone close, moving, divorce, or a physical accident. Sleep disturbances, weight changes, depression and anxiety are common during such periods of stress, and these symptoms may also mask thyroid disease.

What Are the Risks for and Symptoms of Thyroid Disease?

A comprehensive list of symptoms of hypothyroidism (an underactive or slow thyroid) is featured in our Hypothyroidism Risks/Symptoms Checklist.

A comprehensive list of symptoms of Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism (an overractive thyroid) is featured in our Graves' Disease/Hyperhyroidism Risks/Symptoms Checklist.

People who have thyroid cancer, goiter or nodules may have no symptoms at all. In other cases, symptoms of hypothyroidism and/or hyperthyroidism may appear with thyroid cancer, goiter, and nodules. Typically, growths or enlargement in the thyroid may also present with difficulty swallowing, feeling of a lump in the neck, soreness in the neck, sensitivity to neckties/turtlenecks/scarves, and unusual sensations in the throat and neck.

Basically, however, some of the key risks and symptoms:

  • A family history of thyroid disease and/or autoimmune diseases
  • Female
  • Over 60
  • Pregnant, recently pregnant, or menopausal
  • Lump, swelling, discomfort in the neck and throat area
  • Fatigue, exhaustion
  • Feeling extremely cold or hot
  • Particularly high or low pulse rate
  • High or very low cholesterol levels
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Weight changes
  • Depression and/or anxiety/panic
  • Hair loss
  • Fertility problems
  • Menstrual problems
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of sex drive
Do Weight Problems Always Mean A Thyroid Condition?

Some people believe that everyone who has a thyroid condition must have weight problems, usually weight gain, or difficulty losing. That is not the case. Some people will have a thyroid condition and no change in weight. There are even people who have an underactive thyroid, who lose weight. Alternatively, if you are overweight and gaining, or having difficulty losing, you are not automatically hypothyroid. A percentage of people with weight problems do likely have undiagnosed thyroid problems, but not all. So it's not safe to assume that if you have a weight problem, you also have a thyroid problem, unless you have been diagnosed by a practitioner or valid testing has identified your condition

Should You Have a Thyroid Test?

If you have more than one two of the above risks/symptoms, you should have your thyroid tested.

Some experts feel that everyone should be tested at 35, and every 5 years thereafter, and more frequently when symptoms are present.

Other experts believe that any woman considering pregnancy should have a thyroid test before becoming pregnant, and that all women should have thyroid tests in each of their three trimesters of pregnancy.

Some experts believe that everyone who is bein prescribed an antidepressant should first have a thyroid test.

If you believe you have a thyroid problem, here are some steps to follow:
  • Learn -- Find out more about thyroid disease. Start with the articles about different types of thyroid problems, at this site's Articles section.

  • Find a Doctor -- If you want to find a doctor particularly recommended by your fellow thyroid patients, see the Thyroid Top Docs Directory. But most general practitioners can run basic thyroid tests.

  • See Your Doctor -- Bring your Checklist to the doctor for an evaluation, and request thyroid testing, including TSH, Free T4, Free T3, and thyroid antibodies. A Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) test is a simple blood test, it's not particularly expensive -- a basic TSH blood test typically runs from around $30 to $100, depending on the lab where your doctor sends tests, plus the cost of your doctor's visit. The TSH test can diagnose many cases of thyroid disease. For others, T4, T3, Free T4, Free T3 and thyroid antibodies testing may be necessary to identify a more subtle or borderline problem.

  • Test Yourself, if Necessary -- If your doctor is reluctant to test, you can order your own thyroid tests. See How To Order Your Own Blood Tests.

  • Understand The Diagnosis and Results -- Get your test results from your doctor, and find out your doctor's interpretation and diagnosis. To help you understand tests and their results see the Thyroid Test Chart, which features common tests, normal ranges, and some general guidelines on what tests mean.
In-Depth Information

Hashimoto's Disease/Hypothyroidism -- For in-depth information on symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment of hypothyroidism, get a copy of the book Living Well With Hypothyroidism. It's an essential manual for anyone who suspects he or she is hypothyroid and is looking for proper diagnosis and treatment, or for those who know they are hypothyroid, but don't feel well despite treatment. This book is also a help to those who are hypothyroid and/or have all or part of their thyroid removed or inactivated due to thyroid cancer surgery, nodule or goiter surgery, or RAI or antithyroid drug treatments for hyperthyroidism/Graves' disease.

Graves' Disease/Hyperthyroidism -- For in-depth information on symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment of Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism, get a copy of my book Living Well With Graves' Disease and Hyperthyroidism. The book offers conventional and alternative information on how to get properly diagnosed and treated.

Autoimmune Thyroid Disease -- If you have either Hashimoto's or Graves' disease, then you have an autoimmune condition. This puts you at increased risk of developing other autoimmune conditions such as MS, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and others, and autoimmune symptoms such as dry eyes, muscle/joint aches and pains, hair loss and more. For in-depth information on the symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune conditions, get a copy of the book Living Well with Autoimmune Disease. This guide offers comprehensive conventional and alternative information on diet, nutrition, treatment, and lifestyle changes for autoimmune disease patients.

Sticking Out Our Necks and this website are Copyright Mary Shomon, 1997-2008. All rights reserved. Mary Shomon, Editor/Webmaster
All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician or health practitioner before starting a new treatment program. Please see our full disclaimer.