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Thyroid Disease Symptoms and Risk Factors


Updated May 15, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Doctor examining woman's throat

Symptoms of thyroiditis typically include pain and tenderness in the thyroid area, neck and throat.

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Thyroid Disease Symptoms and Risk Factors

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


Hypothyroidism Symptoms

The symptoms of hypothyroidism -- an underactive thyroid -- tend to mirror the slowing down of physical processes that results from insufficient thyroid hormone. Common symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, constipation, fuzzy thinking, low blood pressure, fluid retention, depression, body pain, slow reflexes, and much more. A more detailed list of symptoms and risks is featured in the Hypothyroidism Risks/Symptoms Checklist. It can also be helpful to identify risks and symptoms using this interactive online test: Quiz: Could You Be Hypothyroid?.

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, high blood pressure, eye sensitivity/bulging and vision disturbances, and many other concerns. A lengthier list of symptoms and risks is featured in Graves' Disease and Hyperthyroidism: Risks and Symptoms. To pinpoint symptoms of an overactive thyroid, you may also want to take this online test: Quiz: Could You Be Hyperthyroid?.

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 then can be confusing, with 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 hyperthyroidism. For more information, read this review of important things to know about Graves' disease.

Goiter/Nodules Symptoms

Symptoms of goiter -- 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 visbible to yourself or others.

Symptoms of nodules depend on what action they are having. Some cause no symptoms, while others may cause difficulty swallowing, a feeling of fullness, pain or pressure in the neck, a hoarse voice, or 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.

Risk Factors for Thyroid Disease

Some of the key risk factors for thyroid disease include...
  • 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 information and specifics, read the detailed article, Risk Factors for Thyroid Disease. You can also read more about risk factors specific to Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism.

Mary Shomon, About.com's Thyroid Guide since 1997, is a nationally-known patient advocate and best-selling author of 10 books on health, including "The Thyroid Hormone Breakthrough: Overcoming Sexual and Hormonal Problems at Every Age," "The Thyroid Diet: Manage Your Metabolism for Lasting Weight Loss," "Living Well With Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You...That You Need to Know," "The Thyroid Guide to Hair Loss," "Living Well With Graves' Disease and Hyperthyroidism," "Living Well With Autoimmune Disease," and "Living Well With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia." Click here for more information on Mary Shomon.

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