10 Most Common Symptoms of Thyroid Disease

Thyroid hormone irregularities cause a range of symptoms, many of which can occur with other medical conditions as well. Typically, if you have thyroid disease, you can expect to experience several of the different effects, and they typically last for a few months, often worsening with time.

The confusing issue with thyroid disease is that it can cause hypothyroidism (low functioning thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).

Due to the complex positive and negative feedback mechanisms of the body's thyroid gland and thyroid hormones, you can even experience one of these conditions for a few months, followed by the other.

If you are experiencing one or more of the 10 most common signs of thyroid disease, see your doctor.

Exhaustion and Sleeping Problems

Sleep issues and general fatigue—which is only worsened when you don't get a good night's rest—are common complaints of people with thyroid issues. At times, they can be so profound that they greatly impact one's daily life.

Hypothyroidism or Underactive Thyroid

  • You wake up exhausted, even after eight or more hours of sleep

  • You need an afternoon nap to get through the day

  • You take long naps

  • You have "marathon sleep sessions" on your days off

Hyperthyroidism or Overactive Thyroid

  • You have a hard time falling asleep

  • You wake up several times throughout the night

  • You experience a racing heart or anxiety at bedtime

Changing Weight

Unexplained weight changes can be a sign of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Unlike changes in sleep or energy levels, the differences between the two conditions in this case can be stark.

Hypothyroidism or Underactive Thyroid

  • You're failing to lose weight despite ramping up exercise and reducing calories

  • You are gaining weight

Hyperthyroidism or Overactive Thyroid

  • You are losing weight while eating as usual

  • You are losing or maintaining weight despite increase caloric intake

Note, however, that you may have an opposite response. You could be hypothyroid and losing weight, can't gain weight, or are underweight. Or, you may be hyperthyroid and find that you can't lose weight, even with a healthy diet and exercise.

Mental Wellness Struggles

Issues such as these may not be something you immediate equate with a thyroid issue, but for some people, they can be profoundly related to their thyroid function.

Hypothyroidism or Underactive Thyroid

  • Depression symptoms

  • Depression that does not respond to antidepressants

Hyperthyroidism or Overactive Thyroid

  • Anxiety

  • Panic disorder

  • Panic attacks

Neck Discomfort, Enlargement, Hoarseness, or Goiter

Your thyroid is located in your neck. In some cases, a goiter (an enlarged thyroid) or nodules can cause a variety of neck and throat-related symptoms. These include:

  • A feeling of swelling or fullness in the neck
  • Visibly enlarged neck
  • Discomfort with turtlenecks or neckties
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Tenderness in the neck
  • A hoarse, raspy voice 

These symptoms can be associated with hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, autoimmune thyroid disease, nodules, goiter, and thyroid cancer.

Neck swelling may be caused by lymph node enlargement, certain types of cancers, infections, neurological disease, or trauma, so you can't assume that any enlargement in the neck is related to your thyroid, and you should see your doctor about it promptly.

Changes to Hair and Skin

Hair and skin are vulnerable to thyroid imbalances, and hair loss can occur with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

Hypothyroidism or Underactive Thyroid

  • Brittle, coarse, and dry hair

  • Hair that breaks easily

  • Loss of hair, especially on the outer edge of the eyebrow

  • Thick, dry, and scaly skin, especially on your heels, knees, and elbows

Hyperthyroidism or Overactive Thyroid

  • Severe hair loss

  • Fine, thinning hair

  • Increased skin sensitivity and smoothness

  • Unusual skin rashes*

*There are also two unusual rashes associated with hyperthyroidism and Graves' disease: Pretibial myxedema, also known as thyroid dermopathy, can appear on the skin of the shins. And a bumpy rash known as miliaria can appear on the face. 

Bowel Problems

The last thing you may be thinking of when you have trouble in the bathroom is your thyroid, but related symptoms are common, only reinforcing the far-reaching effects of this important gland.

Hypothyroidism or Underactive Thyroid

  • Severe or long-term constipation

  • Constipation that does not respond to treatments or remedies

Hyperthyroidism or Overactive Thyroid

  • Diarrhea

  • Loose stools

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Menstrual Irregularities and/or Fertility Concerns

Likewise, menstrual changes are common in thyroid disease.

Hypothyroidism or Underactive Thyroid

  • Heavier periods

  • Painful menstruation

  • Less time between periods

Hyperthyroidism or Overactive Thyroid

  • Shorter periods

  • Lighter menstrual flow

  • Infrequent periods or your periods stops altogether

Thyroid conditions, especially hypothyroidism, can increase your risk of infertility, can interfere with the success of assisted reproduction treatments, and may increase the chances of recurrent miscarriage.

Musculoskeletal Issues

When you're hypothyroid, you may experience aches and pains in your muscles and joints, especially in your arms and legs. Fibromyalgia-like pain is also common for people with an underactive thyroid. If you are hyperthyroid, you may have pain or unusual weakness in the upper arms, and calves. 

With hypothyroidism, there is also a greater risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome in your hands, which can cause weakness and pain in your forearms, wrists, hands, and fingers. A similar condition, tarsal tunnel, is also a risk, causing weakness and pain in the shins, ankles, feet, and toes.

A painful foot condition known as plantar fasciitis may also develop in your feet. These conditions are caused by edema (fluid buildup) around the nerves, as well as mild peripheral neuropathy (decreased nerve function) that results when you have a low function of your thyroid hormone.

Pain is a common but often overlooked symptom of underlying thyroid issues.

Cholesterol Management Trouble

Thyroid disease can interfere with your cholesterol levels. If you have high cholesterol levels, especially when they are not responsive to diet, exercise or cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins, you may have undiagnosed hypothyroidism.

Unusually low cholesterol levels that do not correlate with diet, weight, and exercise may be a sign of hyperthyroidism.

Eye Problems and Vision Changes

A number of eye-related symptoms and changes are common in hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and Graves’ disease.

Common symptoms include:

  • Eye dryness
  • Gritty feeling in the eye
  • Blurry vision
  • Eye redness
  • Swollen, puffy, or watery eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Double vision
  • "Lid lag"—when your upper eyelid doesn't smoothly follow downward movements of the eyes when you look down

An autoimmune condition, known as Graves’ ophthalmopathy or thyroid eye disease, is most easily recognized by proptosis. If you have proptosis, your eyeballs will appear to be bulging and your eyes may not be completely covered when your eyelids are closed.

A Word From Verywell

If you have any of these common symptoms, you may have thyroid disease, or you could have another medical condition. Your next step is to consult your doctor who will begin with asking you about the details of your symptoms and will also do a physical examination. You may need to have a complete thyroid evaluation to determine the cause of your symptoms.

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