Source: Pacific Prime Health Insurance
Metabolism, in essence, is the body's ability to control its core temperature, calorie-burn rate, fat storage and overall energy levels. By extension, these factors affect feelings of hot and cold, endurance and exhaustion, heart rate and weight.
What happens when the thyroid stops doing its job adequately or, conversely, starts working overtime and dumps too much hormone into the bloodstream? Here are two common conditions that warrant a visit to your doctor for further testing:
Hypothyroidism, an under-active thyroid, is the condition that results from a patient's thyroid slowing its production of T3 and/or T4 hormones. As a result, the body's natural metabolism is thrown out of balance, typically functioning slower than it should. The specific amount of metabolic slow-down is directly connected to how much the flow of T3 or T4 has been reduced.
In general, hypothyroidism is most common among females over age 60, but it can occur in anyone and at any age, including infants.
One of the most common and easily detectable symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, and a slowed metabolic rate, is sudden weight gain without any changes to diet or activity level. Additionally, hypothyroidism patients also typically complain of low energy levels and a nagging feeling of tiredness throughout the day, even with adequate sleep. Many sufferers also experience frequent constipation, erratic menstrual cycles, very dry skin, and/or depression.
Inability to maintain core body temperature, usually feeling cold when others are comfortable, is another strong indicator of a slowed thyroid. While occasional coldness is a common problem for everyone during temperature extremes, even with a fully functioning thyroid, feeling cold in only moderately cool temperature, especially in connection with sudden gained weight, is noteworthy.
Furthermore, many hypothyroid sufferers have poor circulation in their extremities -- particularly fingers and toes -- which sometimes causes them to turn blue-ish in temperatures that previously were tolerable.
For an estimated 5-10 percent of post-partum women, a thyroid flux can occur shortly after giving birth, often starting with a hyperthyroid condition which gradually settles into hypothyroidism. This is often a result of hormonal changes associated with becoming a mother, and in most cases is self-resolving in a few months to a few years. However, any woman who feels she may be at risk of, or already has, a thyroid problem during pregnancy should talk to her doctor immediately about treatment options, since irregular metabolism can have dangerous consequences for a fetus.
For patients whose hypothyroid condition has gone undetected for some time, other secondary health problems can also be indicators of low T3 or T4 levels. Hypothyroidism has been found to be an underlying cause of raised cholesterol levels, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, muscle weakening, damaged nerves, reduced fertility, and pregnancy complications.
In all of the situations mentioned above, the level of hypothyroidism may be considered to be subclinical, and mild by medical standards. In rare cases, a patient can develop clinical hypothyroidism; the total shut-down of T3 and T4 production, which in short order will result in unconsciousness, coma, and potentially death.
On the other hand, the thyroid can become over-active in its production of T3 and/or T4 hormones, a condition known as hyperthyroidism, which is frequently associated with Graves' disease.
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism are virtually the opposite of hypothyroidism, in that it causes a "revving-up" of the metabolic rate. While some have considered a few of its symptoms to actually be somewhat desirable, the reality is that it is equally life-threatening, if not more so.
One of the earliest and most recognizable symptoms of hyperthyroidism is weight loss without diet or exercise, and often with an increase in appetite. Hyperthyroidism is sometimes accompanied by the desire to fidget, mood swings without reason, irritability and/or poor, unrestful sleep.
Additionally, bowel movements may become more frequent and intense. Even in cool weather, most hyperthyroid patients complain of feeling hot since the body is constantly working to burn calories and create energy. They may sweat noticeably more, as well.
Understanding your thyroid: This important gland regulates your metabolism
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.