What are thyroid problems?

Thyroid problems manifest with different symptoms depending on the underlying cause.
Thyroid problems manifest with different symptoms depending on the underlying cause.

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the anterior (front) aspect of the neck. Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, body temperature, heartbeat and the digestive system. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is unable to produce sufficient levels of thyroid hormones. Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces excess levels of thyroid hormones. Thyroid problems can begin at any age and women are more affected than men. The clinical presentation and complications of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are different. They may be diagnosed after a routine blood test or after symptoms begin. There are several treatment options that are safe and effective.

What are the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism signs and symptoms in adults may include the following

Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism in babies are as follows

  • Yellow skin and eyes 
  • A large, protruding tongue
  • Difficulty breathing and feeding
  • Hoarse cry
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Physical and mental retardation in untreated infants

Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism in children and young adults include the following

Signs and symptom are similar to those in adults, but in addition, they may also present with the following

  • Poor physical and mental development
  • Short stature
  • Delayed emergence of permanent teeth
  • Delayed puberty
  • Pot belly and poor muscle tone

What are the complications of hypothyroidism?

If untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to various complications

  • Goiter: The lack of thyroid hormone causes constant stimulation of the thyroid gland causing enlargement of the thyroid gland. This is called goiter. Goiter can cause cosmetic concerns and can affect breathing and swallowing.  
  • Cardiac (heart) problems: Hypothyroidism increases the risk of heart disease and causes irregular heart rate and heart failure. Hypothyroidism increases the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as the “bad” cholesterol, leading to cardiovascular complications.
  • Mental health issues: Depression, slow mental function, lethargy and poor memory can occur and may worsen over time. 
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Long-term untreated hypothyroidism can cause damage to your peripheral nerves (in the arms and legs). Patients present with pain, numbness and tingling in affected areas.
  • Myxedema: This is a rare, life-threatening complication of long-term, untreated hypothyroidism. Its signs and symptoms include swelling of the face including the lips, eyelids, and tongue and swelling and thickening of the skin and underlying tissues anywhere in the body having a waxy texture. Patients also have intense cold intolerance and drowsiness followed by profound lethargy and unconsciousness.
  • Infertility: Low levels of thyroid hormone can interfere with ovulation presenting with irregular periods. 
  • Birth defects: Babies born to women with untreated thyroid disease may have a higher risk of being born with birth defects. The children also have a risk of serious developmental problems.
  • Infants: Infants with untreated hypothyroidism present at birth are at risk for serious problems with both physical and mental development. 
  • Pregnant women: Untreated hypothyroidism during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature delivery preeclampsia (high blood pressure in the last trimester of pregnancy) and birth defects in the developing baby.

What are the signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism can mimic other health problems; hence, it may be misdiagnosed. The common signs and symptoms include the following

Graves' ophthalmopathy

SLIDESHOW

Hyperthyroidism Symptoms and Treatment See Slideshow

What are the complications of hyperthyroidism?

If untreated, hyperthyroidism can lead to various complications

  • Cardiac (heart) complications: Cardiac complications of hyperthyroidism can be serious and life threatening. Cardiac complications include a rapid heart rate and altered heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation that can increase the risk of stroke and heart failure.
  • Brittle bones: Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones) causing the bones to fracture easily. Increased thyroid hormones impair the body's ability to incorporate calcium into the bones.
  • Eye complications: Those with Graves' ophthalmopathy develop eye problems, including bulging, red or swollen eyes, photophobia (sensitivity to light), blurry vision or double vision and even loss of vision/blindness.
  • Skin complications: Those with Graves' disease develop Graves' dermopathy, which is characterized by redness and swelling of the skin, usually on the shins and feet.
  • Thyrotoxic crisis: Thyrotoxic crisis is a sudden intensification of symptoms, causing fever, palpitations and altered mental status. This requires emergency medical attention.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/26/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference

Medline


American Thyroid Association