Thyroid imbalance impacts millions of individuals around the world. In fact, living with a thyroid imbalance was one of the main reasons I became a naturopathic physician. I’ve managed my own thyroid issues for 15 years. I encounter patients suffering from thyroid related issues their doctors fail to recognize. Here I’d like to discuss the uncommon symptoms many doctors miss when treating or diagnosing thyroid imbalance.
Common Versus Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems
I deal with thyroid issues all the time. What I’ve learned and what I tell my patients is that what we think of as “common” thyroid symptoms don’t have to be present to confirm you have a thyroid imbalance. Common symptoms might include: (1)
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Brain fog/forgetfulness
- Feeling cold all the time
These are the symptoms most doctors focus on when dealing with thyroid imbalances. In some cases, improper diagnosis, or missed diagnosis of thyroid imbalances, can lead to being prescribed the wrong medication or taking the wrong course of treatment.
These are the signs I look for to determine if it’s time to test for thyroid imbalance.
Because thyroid issues are often missed, I find it important to recognize uncommon symptoms including:
- Puffy neck defined by two horizontal lines
- Dry scalp
- Dry cracked heels
- Itchy skin/hives
- Slow heart rate
- High cholesterol
- High TSH levels (thyroid stimulating hormones)
- Itchy inside ears
- Nasal congestion
- Fluid retention – feeling puffy and bloated
- Gastric issues – heartburn, gastritis, gas
- Chronic headaches
- Miscarriages and infertility problems
- Postpartum depression
Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems: Puffy Neck
When patients visit my office, I look at their neck for signs of puffiness. Thyroid imbalances often cause a puffy bulge that I refer to as an inner tube. This area is right above your thyroid. This chunkiness in the neck is a common complaint of thyroid patients which often appears as two lines running horizontally across the neck. This tells me the gland is inflamed and could also indicate a possible auto-immune issue.
Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems: Dry Skin
Dry skin is more common, but what is often overlooked is a dry scalp and severely dry heels that become cracked. This is a significant indicator that we need to test your thyroid. You might also experience inflamed skin that is uncomfortably itchy all the time.
Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems: Low Heart Rate
Slow heart rate is another tell-tale sign for me that a patient might have thyroid problems. Often patients explain this away because they do yoga or practice stress relieving methods that keep them relaxed. Unfortunately, a slow heart rate isn’t necessarily related to lower anxiety levels. In the case of thyroid issues, it’s because the thyroid regulates a lot of the cardiovascular aspects in our body.
Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems: High Cholesterol
High cholesterol often indicates there’s thyroid imbalance. This is a sign something is off with thyroid hormones T3 and T4. These hormones are produced by your liver which plays a major role in proper thyroid function. This is the thyroid stimulating hormone which is also usually the only hormone that doctors test when patients complain of common thyroid symptoms.
What Is T3 And T4?
T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) are the two hormones produced by your thyroid. T3 is key to your digestive and metabolic function, as well as bone health. T4 plays many roles including managing your metabolism, body temperature and mood. This explains why you might experience issues with weight, depression and always feeling cold. (2)
High Levels Of T3 And T4
When levels are high your thyroid isn’t performing properly. It means your body needs more hormones to stimulate your thyroid. Studies indicate that elevated TSH levels above your normal average indicate an issue. This is another area where doctors often make errors in diagnosing thyroid issues. They consider overall averages instead of looking at your individual normal levels to determine if the levels are high for you.
When we see high T levels and high cholesterol, these are all hormones manufactured by the liver. This provides us with a better snapshot of your cardiovascular health as well.
Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems: Cardiomyopathy
That brings us to cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged heart. The thyroid is connected to the heart and the vascular circulatory system. Your thyroid hormone impacts your heart function, blood vessels and cholesterol levels. So, if you have undiagnosed hypothyroidism, you can experience a slowing of your heart rate. You can also have constriction of the blood vessels which can increase blood pressure and some people also might retain fluids and experience edema. So, it’s very important to diagnose and treat thyroid imbalances properly. (3)
Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems: Itchy Ears
It is very unlikely a doctor will look inside your ears or consider ear symptoms when addressing potential thyroid issues. However, itchy ears are not just uncomfortable, but also a sign of an increase in yeast or candida. This is a major indicator of thyroid imbalance.
What Is Candida?
Candida is yeast, a type of fungus. It can lead to a fungal infection called candidiasis. The most common type of yeast to lead to a fungal infection is Candida albicans. Candida lives on the skin and inside the body, most commonly in the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina. For most people it doesn’t cause issues. However, many people live with candidiasis without even knowing it. (4)
Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems: Candida/Yeast Infection
We are connecting all these symptoms so you can see how they all interact with each other. Candida/yeast infections are not always a symptom of thyroid issues; however, it can be. We have to look at the big picture and determine if the reason you are experiencing yeast infections is because of a thyroid problem, or if it is completely unrelated. Because there are many things that can cause yeast infections, we can’t look at the thyroid as the culprit without testing thyroid levels. (5)
Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems: Nasal Congestion
If you suffer from ongoing nasal congestion, or nosebleeds, this could be related to thyroid issues. Even constant bouts of sinusitis or non-allergy related symptoms can be an indicator we need to test your thyroid.
Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems: Fluid Retention And Lymphedema
As mentioned above, hypothyroidism can lead to fluid retention and edema. One of my major specialties is treating lymphedema. When treating my lymphedema patients who don’t have a family history of lymph issues or have cancer or surgically removed glands, I always look at the thyroid as a potential cause.
Patients experiencing bloating or feeling puffy in the face, neck or anywhere in the body could have fluid retention related to thyroid imbalance. Fluid retention can often be lost quickly when dieting or exercising, so you aren’t losing “fat” but instead water weight.
What Is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a build-up of lymph fluid in the body that leads to swelling. Our body has lymph nodes that are meant to drain lymph. However, clogs can occur that cause our bodies to retain lymph which leads to swelling. Swelling commonly occurs in the arms or legs, but it can happen in other areas of the body including the face and neck. (6)
Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems: Gastric Issues
Gastrointestinal imbalances like heartburn, gastritis, and gas are all indicators that we need to address your thyroid. I also specialize in digestive disorders and the gut/thyroid link. This link means that the digestive process is a big indicator of imbalances in our body including the thyroid.
Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems: Chronic Headaches
So many of us suffer from chronic headaches and this can be a symptom of many different things. However, if you feel you have a constant headache or intense headaches once or twice a month, it could be thyroid related.
Uncommon Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems: Miscarriages/Infertility
Miscarriages and infertility are a big indicator of hypothyroidism and thyroid imbalances as is postpartum depression. Women that have thyroid imbalances are more likely to experience postpartum depression. I had my own experiences with postpartum and it was not pretty. I know that my hormone imbalance post-pregnancy and my history of thyroid imbalance played a big role.
As you can see, thyroid imbalance affects so many different systems in your body. This is why it is crucial to get a proper diagnosis. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, you should speak to your doctor about thyroid testing. We need to test hormones and antibodies to detect thyroid related illness, so we know what is contributing to the imbalance. You can download my list here to share with your doctor to make sure you get the right tests.
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As you can see, thyroid imbalance affects so many different systems in your body. This is why it is crucial to get a proper diagnosis.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, you should speak to your doctor about thyroid testing. We need to test hormones and antibodies to detect thyroid related illness, so we know what is contributing to the imbalance.
You can download my list here to share with your doctor to make sure you get the right tests.