When you think of low thyroid function, or hypothyroidism, weight gain probably comes to mind. This is probably the most common and well known symptom of hypothyroidism, but there are some lesser 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
It is a well-established fact that endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism can cause hair loss. In thyroid dysfunction, other than scalp hair, hair on other parts of the body may also be affected, such as eyebrows and body hair.(1) 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.
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.
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 doctor.
2. High Cholesterol
Many people have elevated cholesterol levels, and doctors are becoming more aggressive about recommending treatment. Often for borderline-high levels, doctors recommend 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 such as Lipitor, however we caution against using these statin drugs.
Thyroid disorders are known to influence lipid metabolism and are common in patients with elevated cholesterol. Hypothyroidism has an adverse effect on the serum lipid profile that may predispose to the development of atherosclerotic disease. Thyroid substitution therapy is beneficial for patients with hypothyroidism.(2)
If you have high cholesterol, you should always have a thorough, comprehensive thyroid evaluation for hypothyroidism.
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. Research shows that hypothyroidism prominently reduces esophageal and gastric motor activity and can cause gastrointestinal dysfunction (3) and that hypothyroidism contributes to chronic constipation. (4,5)
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. Research demonstrates that hypothyroidism can cause decreased sexual desire. (6) 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.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2015 an estimated 16.1 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. Depression and mood changes can be a symptom of untreated low thyroid. Study results show a significant association of hypothyroidism with psychiatric disorders, an increased frequency of depression and anxiety symptoms.(7) Patients with thyroid disorders are more prone to develop depressive symptoms. Both excess and insufficient thyroid hormones can cause mood abnormalities, including depression, that is generally reversible with adequate thyroid treatment. Furthermore, thyroid hormones are reported by many to be an effective treatment for depression. (8) 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 conventional doctors only spending a few minutes with you, mood-related symptoms are quickly attributed to depression, and a prescription written for antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, rather than a more time-intensive thyroid evaluation.
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.
1. A Descriptive Study of Alopecia Patterns and their Relation to Thyroid Dysfunction
2. Dyslipidemia in Patients With Thyroid Disorders
3. Does Hypothyroidism Affect Gastrointestinal Motility?
4. Chronic Constipation: An Evidence-Based Review
5. Chronic Constipation: A Critical Review
6. Sexual Desire Disorders
7. Subclinical Hypothyroidism: Psychiatric Disorders and Symptoms
8. The Link between Thyroid Function and Depression