From hyperthyroidism to hypothyroidism to Hashimoto's disease, it can be tough to understand all of the different conditions that can affect your thyroid gland. Here, we'll take a look at the differences between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, including symptoms and treatments.
The thyroid gland: supporting your body, one system at a time
Hormones produced by the thyroid include thyroxine, triiodothyronine, prohormone, and calcitonin. These hormones work to regulate your body's growth, development, and metabolic rate.
If you're generally healthy, you probably don't spend much time thinking about your thyroid. But if the gland begins producing too much or too little thyroid hormones, many health symptoms can appear. Changes in energy levels, weight, heart rate, reproductive health, and skin health can all occur when thyroid hormone levels fall out of balance.
Cancer can also develop in the thyroid, interrupting a variety of bodily processes. Signs of thyroid cancer can include a lump or nodule in the front of the neck (where the thyroid is located), voice changes, neck and throat pain, trouble swallowing, and hormonal changes (such as acne and unusual growth of body hair).
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider.
What are the symptoms of thyroid disorder?
As mentioned, the thyroid is a key player in producing and regulating your body's hormones. If you're experiencing a thyroid disorder, such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, it's likely that you'll notice some changes related to your energy and hormones.
Symptoms of thyroid disorder are often attributed to aging and other factors. If you're noticing symptoms that could be indicative of a thyroid problem, it's important to talk to your doctor about the changes you've noticed.
Symptoms that may indicate a thyroid disorder include:
- Changes in mood, including anxiety or depression
- Sleep changes, such as excessive sleepiness
- Weight loss or weight gain that cannot be explained by lifestyle factors
- Changes in energy levels, especially feeling tired even after getting a normal amount of sleep
- Body changes typically related with teenage hormones, such as an increase in body hair and acne
If you're experiencing symptoms that could indicate a thyroid condition, your doctor will be able to prescribe tests to find the root cause of the issue. Thankfully, medication and lifestyle changes can be hugely helpful in alleviating many of the symptoms associated with a thyroid disorder.
What's the difference between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism?
Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism mean that something isn't quite right with the thyroid.
The prefix "hyper" means "more"--when a person is experiencing hyperthyroidism, their thyroid is producing a surplus of hormones.
The prefix "hypo" means "less"--when a person is experiencing hypothyroidism, their thyroid isn't producing enough hormones.
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid does not make enough hormones. This can cause the body processes to slow down. People with certain conditions, including diabetes, lupus, and Celiac disease, are more likely to develop hypothyroidism than people who do not have these conditions.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism can include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Fertility problems
- Struggles to tolerate cold temperatures
- Slow heart rate
- Muscle and joint pain
- Weight gain that can't be explained by changes in diet or lifestyle
Like the symptoms of hyperthyroidism, many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism are often thought to be associated with aging, mental health issues, and other non-hormonal conditions. Hypothyroidism tends to develop slowly. If you notice that you're developing symptoms of hypothyroidism, it's important that you ask your doctor to check your thyroid hormone levels.
If your body has an excess of thyroid hormones, it can speed up your metabolism to the point where you experience negative health effects.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include:
- Losing weight despite efforts to maintain or gain weight
- Never feeling satiated despite eating more food
- Rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations
- Hand tremors
- Eyes appear to bulge forward out of sockets
Simply put, hyperthyroidism speeds up your body to a point where it can be tough to function effectively. Many people who have hyperthyroidism believe that their symptoms--especially anxiety--are within their control. With hyperthyroidism, medication is often needed to regulate hormone levels.
It’s important to note, that while most people with hyperthyroidism lose weight, about 10% actually gain weight, which can lead to difficulty getting diagnosed. So, if you’re experiencing other symptoms of hyperthyroidism but are gaining weight, be sure to talk to your doctor.
There are several approaches to treating hypothyroidism. Your endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in hormonal issues) will work with you to determine the right treatment approach for you. Your doctor may recommend diet and lifestyle changes along with synthetic thyroid medicine known as levothyroxine. After about a month and a half of taking medication for hypothyroidism, your doctor will run tests to ensure that the medication is working as expected and make changes if necessary.
If you're diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, your endocrinologist will likely prescribe a combination of medicine, radioactive iodine treatment, and/or surgery. Medications, including carbimazole and propylthiouracil can work to stop your thyroid from over-producing hormones. Some patients diagnosed with the condition also find that taking beta blockers can help to control their symptoms.
Radioactive iodine treatment uses radiotherapy to kill some of your thyroid cells. This can minimize the hormones produced by your thyroid, allowing your hormones to return to a healthy level. Some people also need surgery to remove some or all of the thyroid gland.
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