You could make your thyroid gland the fall guy for those pounds you've put on. It's easy to blame. So easy, in fact, that even your BFF is likely to roll her eyes skyward when you say, "I cannot lose weight! It must be my thyroid." Yeah, right. But actually, maybe you are right.
How can you tell whether your tiny thyroid -- it weighs no more than an ounce -- really could be to blame? The short answer: It depends on whether there are multiple symptoms indicating your thyroid's turned into an underachiever and is no longer producing enough thyroid hormone to keep your calorie-burning metabolism clicking along normally. (An overactive thyroid typically has the opposite effect -- you lose weight without trying. If only, right!)
Suspicious? Here's a list of symptoms that suggest your thyroid gland has gone wrong. Check off only those that are a change from what's normal for you.
Signs That Your Thyroid's Not Up to the Job
- I'm always tired.
- My skin has become dry and rough.
- My hair has turned dry and coarse.
- I've become very sensitive to cold.
- My periods are heavy and irregular.
- My face is often puffy.
- I've gained weight unexpectedly.
- I feel really down or depressed.
- I often have muscle cramps or muscle pain and tenderness.
- My heart rate is slower than normal.
- I'm constipated.
- I'm struggling with infertility.
- I feel slow mentally.
- I have a swelling at the base of my neck, just below my Adam's apple (if you have a noticeable Adam's apple, that is; most women and some men don't). See the Neck Check below.
- I'm not very interested in sex.
If you checked off more than a few symptoms, you may have hypothyroidism, the most common thyroid disorder. Talk with your doc about blood tests that indicate whether your thyroid is producing a normal amount of hormones. Just be aware that the tests aren't conclusive. That's because there's still not a consensus among doctors, researchers, and labs about what normal levels of circulating thyroid hormone are. If your levels are only slightly elevated, for example, what to do next may not be clear. Our advice: Get a second opinion from an endocrinologist who specializes in thyroid disorders.
There are many reasons why a thyroid can turn sluggish. The gland may have become inflamed or damaged, causing it to under-produce. Or another gland, the pituitary, may have slacked off and stopped making enough of its own hormone to stimulate the thyroid. Or an iodine deficiency could be causing thyroid issues, though this is fairly rare. The most common cause is Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disorder.
Fortunately, treating hypothyroidism is relatively easy. Usually, you just need to take a medication that supplies the hormones your thyroid isn't making. As your thyroid gets healthier, so will your weight.
Check Your Neck
Here's a simple way to spot a potential thyroid problem:
- Tip your head back, and hold a mirror so that you can see the lower half of your neck between your collarbone and your Adam's apple.
- Take a sip of water and swallow.
- If you notice any significant bulges when you swallow, see your doctor.
Get more health tips from RealAge:
- How young is your body? Take the new RealAge Test.
- Don't take chances on diabetes -- change your life now. Find out what you can do better.
- Take this quiz to find out what's triggering your headaches.
- Is it allergies, or just a cold? Learn what's causing those itchy eyes and that runny nose.
- Give your skin a checkup, and find out how to keep your skin young.