The thyroid is one of the most sensitive glands in our bodies. If it is not functioning well, it can cause health problems. Learn how to differentiate between the symptoms of hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Generally, signs that indicate a ‘slowing down’ are linked to hypothyroidism, while those linked to an increase in metabolism are linked to hyperthyroidism. What are the main symptoms of thyroid problems?
1) The various symptoms of hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid)
General symptoms of hypothyroidism
In the case of hypothyroidism, the fall in the level of thyroid hormones is followed by decreased strength and tone throughout the body, often accompanied by:
- abnormal weakness or lack of energy, or generalised fatigue
- an excessive need for sleep
- abnormal weight gain, even if the diet has remained unchanged
- excessive sensitivity to cold
- a slowing down of cerebral functioning, such as memory difficulty or memory loss
- concentration difficulties or dyslexic type difficulties
- slowing down of heartbeat (or ‘bradycardia’)
- slowing down of digestion (constipation, bloating)
Effects of hypothyroidism on the skin
Hypothyroidism can also be manifested in the skin and mucous membranes, for example, by:
- cold, dry, pale or thicker skin
- a puffy face
- brittle or streaky nails, dry hair or loss of hair
- the mucous membranes in a poor condition, making the voice more hoarse and/or hearing becomes poorer if the eardrum is affected
Neuromuscular symptoms of hypothyroidism
- slowing down of psychomotor functioning
- reduced strength and muscle tone
- cramps and muscle stiffness
- parasthesia (tingling in the limbs)
- muscle spasms
The signs associated with hypothyroidism are diverse and varied:
- menstrual troubles
- pericarditis (inflammation of the fluid surrounding the heart) or heart failure
- high cholesterol
- reduced libido
Specific clinical signs of hypothyroidism
In children and infants
In children, the main signs of hypothyroidism are:
- a stop or marked slowing in growth
- feeding difficulties, reduced appetite
- regular constipation
- disturbed sleep
In infants affected by hypothyroidism, we often see intellectual difficulties. Don’t worry about this, routine screening allows for a rapid response which limits the consequences for the child.
The various symptoms of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
In the case of hyperthyroidism, the thyroid is overactive and secretes an excess of hormones, which speeds up certain bodily functions.
This increased and abnormal production of hormones can be linked to metabolic and tissue difficulties, including thyroxicosis.
General symptoms of hyperthyroidism
The excess of thyroid hormones often leads to:
- heart beat speeding up, also called tachycardia
- abnormal weight loss despite diet remaining the same, because the body consumes more energy than usual
Effects of hyperthyroidism on the skin and mucous membranes
This over-activity of the thyroid also affects the skin:
- exophthalmos (bulging eyes)
- skin that is warm, clammy or thinning
- fine, brittle hair
Neuromuscular symptoms of hyperthyroidism
These muscular symptoms indicate that the muscle tissues are under strain:
- muscular weakness due to muscle wasting
- amyotrophy -that is, wasting of the striated muscles also called skeletal muscles, or the muscles that a person consciously moves, as well as the heart muscle
- difficulty moving the eyes, due to exophthalmos (bulging eyes)
With hyperthyroidism, the excess of thyroxine leads to significant changes:
- emotional hypersensitivity and sensitivity to light
- mood swings
- intolerance to heat accompanied with excessive sweating and heat phobia
3) Other thyroid problems
There are other thyroid problems which are very like the symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Hashimoto’s disease is an auto-immune hypothyroidism. It can be diagnosed by an ultrasound that scans the thyroid.
By contrast, Graves’ disease (also called Basedow’s disease) is very close to hyperthyroidism, although it is also an auto-immune disease.
Here are the main symptoms :
- Exophtalmos (bulging eyes), which is fairly significant in this disease (only one eye may be affected).
- There is a noticeable swelling of the thyroid which can form a lump in the front of the neck.
- Marked mood swings (cyclothymia -a mild form of bipolar disorder in which the person moves quickly from euphoria to unhappiness)
- Sometimes associated with anxiety attacks and paranoia