It may be small, but the butterfly-shaped gland that sits above your Adam’s apple has a big job. Your thyroid is responsible for pumping out thyroid hormone, which regulates, among other things, your body’s temperature, metabolism and heartbeat. And while a sluggish thyroid tends to get more attention, the reality is that an overactive thyroid—one that pumps out too much thyroid hormone—can be just as damaging.
“At first, symptoms of hyperthyroidism may be vague and easy to dismiss,” explains Shiri Levy, M.D., an endocrinologist at Henry Ford Health. “Left untreated, a thyroid that has been working overtime can pump thyroid levels so high that organs like the heart and liver go into shock.”
The good news: Keeping thyroid levels in check is often as simple as recognizing symptoms and starting the appropriate treatment. Here, Dr. Levy highlights the 10 symptoms of hyperthyroidism that often get overlooked:
- Tremors. When your body is operating in fast-forward mode, even the signals that travel across your nerves speed up, too, and that can lead to noticeable tremors.
- Nervousness. When all systems are constantly in “go mode,” your whole body may spin out of control. You might feel nervous, anxious and jittery—sans caffeine!
- Difficulty concentrating. Just as too little thyroid hormone can cause foggy thinking, too much can make it difficult to concentrate, too.
- More frequent bowel movements. An overactive thyroid speeds up bodily systems, including digestion. You may notice more frequent bowel movements or even diarrhea.
- Rapid heartbeat. Feel like your heart is pumping too fast, skipping a beat or fluttering, even when you’re not exercising? You could be having heart palpitations, a sign of too much thyroid hormone flooding your system.
- Difficulty sleeping. With everything racing, it’s no surprise that people who have an overactive thyroid have trouble sleeping. Anxiety, coupled with a rapid heartbeat, can make it tough to fall asleep, or even wake you up in the middle of the night.
- Menstrual irregularity. A thyroid problem (whether underactive or overactive) often wreaks havoc on menstruation. With hyperthyroidism, a woman’s cycle may be shorter and lighter than normal.
- Difficulty conceiving. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can interfere with ovulation, which impairs fertility. Thyroid disorders are also linked to pregnancy complications.
- Sensitivity to heat. The “all systems go” mode of hyperthyroidism can warm up the body. When everyone else is comfortable, or even cold, you might feel hot, or sweat a lot.
- Muscle weakness. Over time, an overactive thyroid can break down muscle tissue. You might even have trouble lifting heavy objects or climbing stairs.
Think you may have a thyroid disorder? Ask your doctor to check your thyroid levels, especially if you have a family history of Graves’ disease, a condition that causes the thyroid to produce too much hormone. One blood test could shed light on the cause of your symptoms. What’s more, if diagnosed and treated properly, the symptoms listed above can be controlled and in most cases reversed, leaving no lasting effects.
Learn more about endocrinology services at Henry Ford.
To make an appointment with a doctor, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7036).
Dr. Shiri Levy is a board-certified physician who specializes in managing disorders of the thyroid, parathyroid, pituitary, and adrenal glands, lipids, osteoporosis and diabetes. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in Novi and Detroit, and is the service chief of endocrinology at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.