What Are Early Warning Signs of Thyroid Problems?

What Are Early Warning Signs of Thyroid Problems to Look Out For?

Know the Symptoms, When to Get Blood Work, and What Could Be the Root Cause

The most common early warning signs of a thyroid problem include unexplained tiredness, constipation, dry skin, body temperature problems, weight gain, hoarseness, and mood imbalances. These symptoms may seem unrelated, but when taken together, can amount to thyroid concerns. 

That being said, while symptoms of an illness, condition, or disease are usually the motivator to get you to the doctor, they’re not always the best indicator for what may actually be ailing you. Looking out for particular symptoms and getting regular checkups if you have a family history of a particular disease, such as thyroid problems, GI disorders, high blood pressure, or certain cancers, is most certainly a good idea. But in the case of thyroid issues specifically, blood tests are the most accurate way to get a truly reliable picture of what’s going on.

In other words, although it’s important to recognize and understand the symptoms, they’re not very predictive when it comes to diagnosing hypothyroidism — low levels of thyroid hormone production in the butterfly-shaped gland at the front of your neck. (In this article, we’re focused on hypothyroid, or underactive thyroid, rather than hyperthyroid, or overactive thyroid/too much thyroid hormone.)

There are a number of different possible symptoms of hypothyroidism, but having one or two of those symptoms is not a reliable indicator that you have a thyroid problem, largely because many hypothyroidism symptoms overlap with symptoms of other conditions (some of which, like IBS and other digestive disorders, are more common or more likely). In fact, hypothyroidism only affects about 1% of the population, while IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) affects closer to 15% of the population [1, 2].

So what are early warning signs of thyroid problems? Let’s go over what to look out for, the tests that will be most indicative of a problem, and what to do if your levels are normal but you’re still experiencing symptoms of hypothyroid.

What Are Early Warning Signs of Thyroid Problems?

As we already mentioned, many of the symptoms we’re about to enumerate can also be symptoms of other diseases or conditions. So it’s important to understand that displaying one, two, or even three symptoms from this list doesn’t necessarily mean you have a thyroid condition.

Importantly, the more symptoms you have from this list, the greater the likelihood that your issue is in fact with your thyroid, especially if you’re experiencing four or more of these symptoms [3 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Early warning signs of a thyroid disorder or reduced thyroid function, in order of prevalence, include:

The first eight on the list are considered primary symptoms that happen most frequently [3 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 4 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 5 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 6 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 7 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 8 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Experiencing three or more of these symptoms equates to a 16% higher risk of having hypothyroid. Experiencing four to six of these can lead to up to a 90% risk. If you have an autoimmune condition or a family history of hypothyroid, your risk increases even more [5 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

For example, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition that directly affects the thyroid and can lead to hypothyroidism. It’s the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States [7 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Your healthcare provider should be looking at your whole picture of health, including family history, other related illnesses, and above all, requesting labs so that you can have a very concrete idea of the state of your endocrine system and whether or not you’re making enough hormones.

Blood Tests for Thyroid Health

Because the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism overlap with other health challenges, it’s important to dig a little bit deeper than the symptoms to get to the root cause. Screening for symptoms can be useful in younger populations, but for the elderly, especially for women over 60 — which represent 47.4% of all autoimmune hypothyroid patients — it’s not a useful tool [3 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Importantly, no individual symptom can help predict whether or not a person is in need of HRT or other thyroid meds. Measuring TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), free T4 (thyroxine), and TPO (thyroid peroxidase) antibodies through bloodwork is the best way to verify if your symptoms could be attributable to thyroid dysfunction. From there, you can determine whether or not your levels are low enough to merit taking medication, or if something else might be going on that’s affecting your energy levels, skin, and digestion.

What Are Early Warning Signs of Thyroid Problems to Look Out For? - Thyroid%20Test%20Levels 16%20x%209 Landscape L

While medical tests like blood work aren’t always the best predictors for every disease, in the case of thyroid hormone levels, blood work is actually the gold standard and very reliable. It’s worth getting labs done if you have any suspicion at all that you might have hypothyroidism. This type of blood work is relatively inexpensive, and knowing your levels is an important jumping-off point for next steps. It’s also a great way to avoid taking unnecessary medication.

What if It’s Not Your Thyroid?

What Are Early Warning Signs of Thyroid Problems to Look Out For? - Thyroid%20Symptoms%20or%20Gut%20Symptoms 16%20x%209 Landscape L

Recent evidence has found that 30-60% of patients have been misdiagnosed as hypothyroid and prescribed lifelong thyroid medications for hypothyroid when they don’t actually need them [13 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 14 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. This is not only a waste of time and resources, it’s also missing the root cause of a collection of symptoms that have been misattributed to thyroid disease.

Furthermore, all prescription drugs come with potential side effects, and thyroid medications are no different. Taking them when they’re not actually needed increases your risk of experiencing side effects, and for no good reason.

If you’re truly hypothyroid, you will benefit from thyroid medications and should take them. But if you have normal thyroid levels or subclinical hypothyroidism, there’s no reason for a healthcare professional to shoehorn you into a diagnosis and over-treat the problem with meds just because some of the symptoms line up.

The Gut-Thyroid Connection

Digestive imbalances or dysfunction may be the cause of your thyroid-like symptoms. Mood imbalances, fatigue, and dry skin can all be results of a gut imbalance [15 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 16 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. IBS affects 10-20% of the western population, while hypothyroidism affects less than 1% [17 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. It’s a lot more likely you’re having a gut problem than a thyroid problem if your labs don’t indicate clinically low thyroid hormones.

There’s also a connection between hypothyroidism and two types of gut infections: Helicobacter pylori infection and SIBO [18 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 19 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 20 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 21 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. In both cases, probiotics have been documented as successfully treating symptoms of hypothyroidism that may have actually stemmed from gut imbalances [22 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Subclinical hypothyroidism has been associated with higher rates of SIBO, which, again, can be treated with probiotics and a low-FODMAP diet.

Probiotics have also successfully yielded significant improvements in the mood of individuals with mild to moderate depressive symptoms (meaning that the mood issue was gut-related, not thyroid-related) [23 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Studies have also shown a connection between leaky gut and chronic fatigue syndrome and linked a low FODMAP diet with reduced fatigue in patients with IBS and fibromyalgia [24 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 25 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 26 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

The Bottom Line

It’s important to know your body and to notice if symptoms begin to crop up that don’t have an obvious explanation. Many symptoms point to more than one disease or dysfunction, so while knowing which symptoms to look out for is a good idea, it’s also critical to know when it’s time to ask your doctor for blood work.

What are early warning signs of thyroid problems? The big ones to look out for are unexplained tiredness, constipation, cold intolerance, weight gain, hoarseness, mood imbalances, and muscle weakness. The more of these you have, the more likely it is that you have a thyroid problem. But blood work is the only way to know for certain if you have clinically low levels of thyroid hormone.

If you’ve been told that your thyroid hormone ranges are normal or subclinical but you still have lots of symptoms, you should seek a second opinion before beginning HRT or other thyroid med regimens. It’s not only possible but likely that your symptoms are gut-related and could be addressed with dietary changes and probiotics. If you’re looking for assistance to get you on the right track toward better understanding your whole health picture, reach out to our clinic. We’d love to help you.

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

➕ References
  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome – American College of Gastroenterology [Internet]. Available from: https://gi.org/topics/irritable-bowel-syndrome/
  2. Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid) | NIDDK [Internet]. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/hypothyroidism
  3. Carlé A, Pedersen IB, Knudsen N, Perrild H, Ovesen L, Andersen S, et al. Hypothyroid Symptoms Fail to Predict Thyroid Insufficiency in Old People: A Population-Based Case-Control Study. Am J Med. 2016 Oct;129(10):1082–92. DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.06.013. PMID: 27393881. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  4. Chaker L, Bianco AC, Jonklaas J, Peeters RP. Hypothyroidism. Lancet. 2017 Sep 23;390(10101):1550–62. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)30703-1. PMID: 28336049. PMCID: PMC6619426. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  5. Garber JR, Cobin RH, Gharib H, Hennessey JV, Klein I, Mechanick JI, et al. Clinical practice guidelines for hypothyroidism in adults: cosponsored by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American Thyroid Association. Thyroid. 2012 Dec;22(12):1200–35. DOI: 10.1089/thy.2012.0205. PMID: 22954017. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  6. Patil N, Jialal I. Hypothyroidism. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2018. PMID: 30137821. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  7. Chiovato L, Magri F, Carlé A. Hypothyroidism in context: where we’ve been and where we’re going. Adv Ther. 2019 Sep 4;36(Suppl 2):47–58. DOI: 10.1007/s12325-019-01080-8. PMID: 31485975. PMCID: PMC6822815. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  8. Wilson SA, Stem LA, Bruehlman RD. Hypothyroidism: diagnosis and treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2021 May 15;103(10):605–13. PMID: 33983002. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  9. Chanasumon N, Sriphojanart T, Suchonwanit P. Therapeutic potential of bimatoprost for the treatment of eyebrow hypotrichosis. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2018 Feb 22;12:365–72. DOI: 10.2147/DDDT.S156467. PMID: 29503529. PMCID: PMC5826207. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  10. Cryer B, Redfern JS, Goldschmiedt M, Lee E, Feldman M. Effect of aging on gastric and duodenal mucosal prostaglandin concentrations in humans. Gastroenterology. 1992 Apr;102(4 Pt 1):1118–23. PMID: 1551520. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  11. Siegel B, Weihe E, Bette M, Nüsing RM, Flores-de-Jacoby L, Mengel R. The effect of age on prostaglandin-synthesizing enzymes in the development of gingivitis. J Periodont Res. 2007 Jun;42(3):259–66. DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0765.2006.00942.x. PMID: 17451546. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  12. Qian H, Luo N, Chi Y. Aging-shifted prostaglandin profile in endothelium as a factor in cardiovascular disorders. J Aging Res. 2012 Feb 13;2012:121390. DOI: 10.1155/2012/121390. PMID: 22500225. PMCID: PMC3303603. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  13. Burgos N, Toloza FJK, Singh Ospina NM, Brito JP, Salloum RG, Hassett LC, et al. Clinical Outcomes After Discontinuation of Thyroid Hormone Replacement: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Thyroid. 2021 May;31(5):740–51. DOI: 10.1089/thy.2020.0679. PMID: 33161885. PMCID: PMC8110016. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  14. Livadas S, Bothou C, Androulakis I, Boniakos A, Angelopoulos N, Duntas L. Levothyroxine replacement therapy and overuse: A timely diagnostic approach. Thyroid. 2018 Nov 30; DOI: 10.1089/thy.2018.0014. PMID: 30351232. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  15. Han CJ, Yang GS. Fatigue in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Pooled Frequency and Severity of Fatigue. Asian Nurs Res (Korean Soc Nurs Sci). 2016 Mar;10(1):1–10. DOI: 10.1016/j.anr.2016.01.003. PMID: 27021828. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  16. Frändemark Å, Jakobsson Ung E, Törnblom H, Simrén M, Jakobsson S. Fatigue: a distressing symptom for patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2017 Jan;29(1). DOI: 10.1111/nmo.12898. PMID: 27401139. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  17. Saito YA, Schoenfeld P, Locke GR. The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome in North America: a systematic review. Am J Gastroenterol. 2002 Aug;97(8):1910–5. DOI: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2002.05913.x. PMID: 12190153. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  18. Ribichini D, Fiorini G, Repaci A, Castelli V, Gatta L, Vaira D, et al. Tablet and oral liquid L-thyroxine formulation in the treatment of naïve hypothyroid patients with Helicobacter pylori infection. Endocrine. 2017 Sep;57(3):394–401. DOI: 10.1007/s12020-016-1167-3. PMID: 27848196. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  19. Bugdaci MS, Zuhur SS, Sokmen M, Toksoy B, Bayraktar B, Altuntas Y. The role of Helicobacter pylori in patients with hypothyroidism in whom could not be achieved normal thyrotropin levels despite treatment with high doses of thyroxine. Helicobacter. 2011 Apr;16(2):124–30. DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-5378.2011.00830.x. PMID: 21435090. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  20. Centanni M, Gargano L, Canettieri G, Viceconti N, Franchi A, Delle Fave G, et al. Thyroxine in goiter, Helicobacter pylori infection, and chronic gastritis. N Engl J Med. 2006 Apr 27;354(17):1787–95. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa043903. PMID: 16641395. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  21. Wang B, Xu Y, Hou X, Li J, Cai Y, Hao Y, et al. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in subclinical hypothyroidism of pregnant women. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2021 May 24;12:604070. DOI: 10.3389/fendo.2021.604070. PMID: 34108932. PMCID: PMC8181748. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  22. Talebi S, Karimifar M, Heidari Z, Mohammadi H, Askari G. The effects of synbiotic supplementation on thyroid function and inflammation in hypothyroid patients: A randomized, double‑blind, placebo‑controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2020 Jan;48:102234. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.102234. PMID: 31987229. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  23. Ng QX, Peters C, Ho CYX, Lim DY, Yeo W-S. A meta-analysis of the use of probiotics to alleviate depressive symptoms. J Affect Disord. 2018 Mar 1;228:13–9. DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2017.11.063. PMID: 29197739. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  24. Maes M, Leunis J-C. Normalization of leaky gut in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is accompanied by a clinical improvement: effects of age, duration of illness and the translocation of LPS from gram-negative bacteria. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2008 Dec;29(6):902–10. PMID: 19112401. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  25. Altobelli E, Del Negro V, Angeletti PM, Latella G. Low-FODMAP Diet Improves Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms: A Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2017 Aug 26;9(9). DOI: 10.3390/nu9090940. PMID: 28846594. PMCID: PMC5622700. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source
  26. Marum AP, Moreira C, Saraiva F, Tomas-Carus P, Sousa-Guerreiro C. A low fermentable oligo-di-mono saccharides and polyols (FODMAP) diet reduced pain and improved daily life in fibromyalgia patients. Scand J Pain. 2016 Aug 22;13:166–72. DOI: 10.1016/j.sjpain.2016.07.004. PMID: 28850525. Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source

Need help or would like to learn more?
View Dr. Ruscio’s additional resources

Get Help

Discussion

I care about answering your questions and sharing my knowledge with you. Leave a comment or connect with me on social media asking any health question you may have and I just might incorporate it into our next listener questions podcast episode just for you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *