Overview of Thyroid Disease Symptoms and Risk Factors

Woman with shoulder and back pain
Neck pain, as well as muscle and joint pain, could be symptoms of undiagnosed thyroid problems. BSIP/UIG/Getty Images

The following are some of the key risks and symptoms of various thyroid conditions and diseases.

Risk Factors for Thyroid Disease

Some of the key risk factors for thyroid disease include the following:.

  • Female: Women are at greater risk than men.
  • Age: being 50 and above poses the highest risk of thyroid disease, though it can strike at any age.
  • A personal or family history of thyroid and/or autoimmune disease increases risk.
  • Surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid, or radioactive iodine treatment to the thyroid -- both which typically result in an underactive thyroid.
  • Being left-handed, ambidextrous or prematurely gray mean greater risk of autoimmune disease, including thyroid problems
  • Being pregnant or within the first year after childbirth
  • Current or former smoker
  • Recent exposure to iodine via contrast dye or surgical antiseptic
  • Iodine or herbal supplements containing iodine, in pill or liquid form
  • Living in an iodine-deficient area
  • Various medical treatments, including Interferon Beta-1b, Interleukin-4, immunosuppressants, antiretrovirals, monoclonal antibody (Campath-1H), bone marrow transplant, Lithium, amiodarone (Cordarone), and other medications
  • Overconsumption of raw goitrogenic foods, i.e., Brussel sprouts, turnips, cauliflower, soy products and others
  • Overconsumption of soy foods and soy isoflavones
  • Recent neck trauma, biopsy, injection or surgery
  • Radiation exposure, through radiation to neck area, or exposure to nuclear facility or accident, i.e., Chernobyl
  • High-stress life events

For more specifics, read the detailed article, Risk Factors for Thyroid Disease

Hypothyroidism Symptoms

The symptoms of hypothyroidism—an underactive thyroid—tend to mirror the slowing down of physical processes that result from insufficient thyroid hormone.

Common symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • constipation
  • fuzzy thinking
  • low blood pressure and low heart rate
  • fluid retention
  • depression
  • body pain
  • slow reflexes
  • hair loss

A more detailed list of symptoms and risks is featured in the Hypothyroidism Risks/Symptoms Checklist

Hyperthyroidism Symptoms

The symptoms of hyperthyroidism tend to reflect the rapid metabolism that results from an oversupply of thyroid hormone. Common symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • rapid weight loss
  • diarrhea
  • high heart rate and palpitations
  • high blood pressure
  • eye sensitivity/bulging
  • vision disturbances
  • goiter/neck enlargement

A comprehensive list of symptoms and risks is featured in Graves' Disease and Hyperthyroidism: Risks and Symptoms

Autoimmune Thyroid Disease Symptoms

The two autoimmune diseases that directly affect the thyroid are Hashimoto's disease and Graves' disease. The symptoms of Hashimoto's disease usually parallel the hypothyroidism that is a result of the disease. Occasionally, however, while the thyroid is failing, it can have periods where it sputters into life and even becomes temporarily overactive. This is known as Hashitoxicosis. Symptoms can be confusing, cycling over a period of days or weeks between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism symptoms.

To understand the difference between hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's disease, read: Hashimoto's vs. Hypothyroidism: What's the Difference? Graves' disease symptoms typically mirror the signs and symptoms hyperthyroidism..

Goiter/Nodules Symptoms

Symptoms of goite—an enlarged thyroid—include a swollen, tender or tight feeling in the neck or throat, hoarseness or coughing, and difficulty swallowing or breathing. Sometimes, the goiter is visible to yourself or others.

Symptoms of nodules depend on what action they are having. Some cause no symptoms. But depending on the size, location, and activity of the nodules, they can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • a feeling of fullness
  • pain or pressure in the neck
  • a hoarse voice
  • neck tenderness

Some nodules trigger hyperthyroid-like symptoms such as palpitations, insomnia, weight loss, anxiety, and tremors. Nodules can also trigger hypothyroidism, and symptoms might include weight gain, fatigue, depression. Nodules can sometimes cause cycling back and forth between hyperthyroid and hypothyroid symptoms.

Here is more information on Thyroid Nodules, Lumps and Goiter. Sometimes you can detect goiter or a nodule yourself by performing a Thyroid Neck Check. Here are instructions on how to do a neck check.

Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

Although many patients are asymptomatic at first, possible symptoms of thyroid cancer include a lump in the neck, voice changes, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or lymph node swelling. A detailed listing of symptoms is featured in the article Thyroid Cancer Symptoms.

Thyroiditis Symptoms

Symptoms of thyroiditis typically include pain and tenderness in the thyroid area, neck and throat, difficulty sleeping. Thyroiditis may also trigger traditional hypothyroid or hyperthyroid symptoms. Some additional information on thyroiditis is featured in the article: Understanding Thyroiditis.

You can also read more about risk factors specific to Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism.

Sources: 

Braverman, L, Cooper D. Werner & Ingbar's The Thyroid, 10th Edition. WLL/Wolters Kluwer; 2012.

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