Learn about five lesser-known signs of hypothyroidism.
When you think of low thyroid, the image of middle-aged, overweight woman probably comes to mind. And you wouldn’t be far off, because hypothyroidism is certainly far more common in women, especially middle-aged and older, and in many cases, can cause weight gain and weight problems for sufferers.
But there are some particularly telling — but little known — signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism that some doctors, and even fewer patients, are aware of, but can help lead to the correct diagnosis.
1. Loss of the Outer Edge of the Eyebrows
Hypothyroidism is very often associated with hair loss. You may notice a heavier-than-normal loss of hair from the head. Even body hair, — including underarm and pubic hair — may shed or thin. This sort of hair loss can be due to a thyroid problem, but it can also show up with other hormonal imbalances, illnesses, age, and due to genetics and heredity.
But one type of hair loss is considered unique to hypothyroidism. It is the loss of the hair in the outer edge of the eyebrows. This is a characteristic sign of hypothyroidism, and is not linked to other diseases, and so many physicians consider it a very important clinical sign.
Men may not notice this quite as much as women, who may find themselves plucking their outer brow area less, or even “drawing in” the missing eyebrows in that area with an eyebrow pencil.
If you have any unexplained hair loss, and especially, if you have loss of hair from the outer edge of your eyebrows, it’s time for a thorough thyroid evaluation from a knowledgeable practitioner.
2. High Cholesterol That Doesn’t Respond to Drug Treatment
Many people have elevated cholesterol levels, and doctors are becoming more aggressive about recommending treatment. Often for borderline-high levels, doctors recommend a trial of diet and exercise to get the numbers down and back into balance. If that doesn’t work, or if the numbers are especially high, doctors may recommend cholesterol-lowering drugs, most commonly, the statin drugs, like Lipitor.
Undiagnosed, untreated hypothyroidism can make elevated cholesterol resistant to treatment. Despite diet, exercise and prescription medications, cholesterol levels may remain high, confounding doctors and patients alike.
Generally, if you have high cholesterol, you should always have a thorough, comprehensive thyroid evaluation to completely rule out hypothyroidism before taking cholesterol-lowering thyroid medications. And if you are on cholesterol-lowering drugs that aren’t working, definitely talk to your doctor about your thyroid.
3. Persistent Constipation
It’s one of those topics we often don’t want to discuss, but persistent or chronic constipation can be a sign of an underactive thyroid. Because the thyroid regulates metabolism, the metabolic slowdown of hypothyroidism also slows down the digestive system, and food moves more slowly through digestion and elimination, frequently resulting in chronic constipation. Often, common remedies — such as increasing water intake, fruits like dried prunes or prune juice, upping the fiber intake — are tried, with no results. Over-the-counter, herbal and prescription drugs may also fail to resolve the problem.
If you are experiencing chronic constipation, you should always be exhaustively evaluated for an underactive thyroid.
4. Loss of Sex Drive
Many women consider loss of sex drive as an unavoidable part of getting older, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Low — or no — sex drive may actually be a sign of undiagnosed, untreated hypothyroidism in some women. If you have a problem with your libido, any medical workup your doctor does to evaluate you should also include a complete thyroid examination, to rule out low thyroid as a potential cause.
As many as 21 million Americans — some 9.5% of the population age 18 and older — have a mood disorder, including major depression, dysthymic disorder (milder, longer-term depression), and bipolar disorder. Depression and mood changes can be a symptom of untreated low thyroid. And unfortunately, some of the millions of people diagnosed and treated for depression and mood disorders are actually suffering from undiagnosed hypothyroidism.
There is no blood test for depression, so diagnosis is made based on a discussion of the symptoms. But thyroid disease diagnosis requires evaluation and testing, and so with today’s 5-minute doctor visits and managed care cost containment, mood-related symptoms are quickly attributed to depression, and a prescription written for antidepressants or antianxiety medications, rather than a more time-intensive thyroid evaluation, and the cost of bloodwork to test the thyroid.
While some thyroid patients can have a separate mood disorder that also warrants treatment, it’s essential that everyone diagnosed with depression or other mood disorders be fully evaluated as early as possible to rule out any underlying thyroid imbalances.
Mary Shomon is an internationally-known thyroid patient advocate, and is author of a number of best-selling health books, including Living Well With Hypothyroidism and The Thyroid Diet. Since 1997, she has run the Internet’s most popular thyroid patient sites: About.com Thyroid Site and Thyroid-Info.com