Thyroid: from gaining weight to hair loss and loss of sexual desire, answers to 20 frequent questions

From tiredness and sleepiness, through weight gain or difficulty losing weight, hair loss and changes in skin and nails, lack of concentration, nervousness, insomnia and even loss of sexual desire. All these symptoms can be manifestations of failures in the functioning of the thyroid gland.

The thing is that the thyroid gland is the conductor of many metabolic processes and the hormones linked to them, which is why detecting the problems that affect it is essential to prevent them from interfering with the quality of life.

 What is the thyroid and what does it do?

Shaped like a butterfly and located in the front of the neck, “the thyroid gland is one of the largest and most important endocrine organs in the body, and perhaps the one we pay the least attention to ,” says Virginia Busnelli, a nutritionist.  

“Its job is to make thyroid hormones, pump them into the bloodstream, and deliver them to all tissues in the body to help the body use energy, maintain body temperature, and allow the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs to function normally.” Busnelli explains.

“That is why any type of alteration in this gland can affect, often in a visible way, the integral health of an individual, but other times the patient may present non- specific symptoms that interrupt their daily life and are not so easy to determine .”

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 750 million people suffer from some thyroid pathology -such as hypothyroidism (the most frequent), hyperthyroidism, thyroiditis, thyroid cancer, among others-, of which around 6 of every 10 are unaware .

Regarding diseases that affect the thyroid, their origin and treatment, not only myths still prevail, but also many questions.

For this reason, Busnelli dedicates a chapter in his latest book to offering answers to the most frequent doubts. Here are some of them.

1. Is it possible that the thyroid disease was declared due to a situation of suffering?

Our emotions are fundamental in the development of diseases, but mainly in the imbalances of our immune and hormonal systems. Based on family predisposition , bereavement or suffering from another cause can accelerate the onset of any dormant or silent pathology.

2. My dad has fibromyalgia and my mom has Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, will I also develop autoimmune diseases?

In general, autoimmune diseases tend to coexist and occur preferentially in people with a family history, which is why frequent check-ups are necessary.

But antecedent is not a sentence , it does not imply that any disease of this type will necessarily develop.

3. My TSH is different, do I have hypothyroidism?

An elevated TSH level indicates that the thyroid gland is failing due to a problem directly affecting it (primary hypothyroidism) and that conductors are working too hard to stimulate it.

In most healthy people, a normal TSH value indicates that the thyroid is functioning normally, and a high value shows that the pituitary gland is working harder than desired because the thyroid is working less.

 4. Why do my hair fall out a lot despite taking levothyroxine?

Hair loss is a very common symptom of hypothyroidism, but it can be a symptom of many other diseases as well.

When treatment with levothyroxine is correctly indicated and we make sure that we are taking it accordingly, it is very important to rule out other problems (poor diet, inadequate hair care habits), since “everything is not the fault of the thyroid”.

5. Can thyroid disorders affect menstruation?

Yes, the changes in thyroid hormones caused by both hiccups and hyperthyroidism can delay the onset of menses by 90 days or more depending on the case, so it can harm fertility.

6. Is it real that my own defense system can attack me?

Yes, the immune system is in charge of protecting us from external threats such as viruses or bacteria.

The problem is that this system can turn against it when it identifies elements of our body as foreign agents, in this way autoimmune diseases develop. When a person suffers from one of these pathologies, the chances of having another associate increase .

7. Can thyroid disorders cause me to sweat excessively?

Yes. When thyroid hormones in the blood increase, body temperature rises, causing more sweating . It is most often seen on the hands. But it’s not always the thyroid’s fault.

8. What is subclinical hypothyroidism?

It is a mild degree of thyroid insufficiency, which occurs with elevated TSH and normal thyroid hormones.

The fact that it is called “subclinical” refers merely to a biochemical classification of how the hormones are found, it does not mean that the patient does not present symptoms .

A patient with clinical hypothyroidism may have no symptoms and a subclinical one may have one or more.

 9. Could constipation be due to a thyroid problem?

When the thyroid is not working well, the intestinal rhythm can be disturbed, leading to constipation in hypothyroidism (because the intestines move at a slower rate than normal) or diarrhea in hyperthyroidism.

Although hypothyroidism should be considered in cases of chronic constipation, it is not the most likely cause. We must rule out incorrect hydration, a diet with little fiber, irritable bowel syndrome or other pathologies of the digestive tract.

10. Are thyroid problems hereditary?

When we talk about diseases of the thyroid gland, and especially autoimmune diseases, we usually say that they are pathologies that have a genetic predisposition. It means that if we have direct relatives who suffer from them, we are more likely to suffer from them , but this is not always the case.

A person with no history can develop thyroid diseases, in the same way that one who has them may not develop them.

11. Can you be born without a thyroid?

Yes, you can be born without a thyroid gland or with an underactive thyroid that does not secrete thyroid hormones. This is a very severe condition called congenital hypothyroidism .

In Argentina, all babies at birth undergo an initial test to assess thyroid function with a heel prick. Upon detection, treatment consists of administering levothyroxine for life.

12. Can you live without a thyroid?

You can be born without a thyroid, have a non-functioning thyroid, or have it removed. What cannot be lived without a thyroid unless a hormone replacement treatment with levothyroxine is established, which allows us to lead an absolutely normal life if it is followed and monitored correctly .

13. Is it possible that the cause of my weight gain is that my thyroid slowed down my metabolism?

There is an intricate relationship between the thyroid, body weight and metabolism. Changes in thyroid hormone levels and, in turn, metabolism cause changes in the difference between the number of calories we consume and the number of calories we burn.

However, it doesn’t tell the whole story about the relationship between weight and thyroid.

There are many other hormones (besides thyroid), proteins, and chemical compounds that are very important in controlling energy expenditure, food intake, and weight.

 14. Why did I start to gain weight when I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism?

This is the question of the majority of patients who come to the office with poorly treated, untreated or undiagnosed thyroid problems who have tried thousands of resources to achieve a stable body weight and do not succeed. It is that the thyroid gland undoubtedly influences the weight .

Weight gain is generally higher in people with more severe hypothyroidism. Most are due to excessive accumulation of salt and water, not fat. And it rarely results in significant weight gain. In general, between 2 to 4 kilos of weight can be attributed to the thyroid.

15. Can hypothyroidism cause loss of sexual desire?

Hypothyroidism can cause many symptoms in the sexual sphere, both in men and women .

In women it can cause decreased desire, lack of arousal, poor lubrication, pain and discomfort during sexual intercourse, and the impossibility of reaching orgasm.

It is important that these symptoms are taken into account, since with the correct treatment of thyroid dysfunction they usually disappear.

16. If the thyroid gland causes pain and is swollen, is it necessary to request an ultrasound?

When the gland hurts, an ultrasound is usually indicated to evaluate the possibility of thyroiditis.

It is also indicated when in the physical examination of palpation of the gland lumps or bumps are perceived in order to evaluate thyroid nodules. But it is not necessary for all thyroid pathologies .

 17. Is levothyroxine used as a treatment for thyroid cancer?

After thyroid cancer surgery, thyroid hormone is needed both to replace the function of the gland that has been removed, and to prevent the growth of any microscopic debris from cancer cells.

A doctor should carefully monitor this type of treatment . The duration of suppressive therapy in cancer patients is currently being debated.

18. Can taking a higher dose than I need to make me feel sick?

The thyroid is like the engine of the body, if for some reason there is more thyroid hormone than necessary, that engine will be revolutionized by working much faster and uncontrolled, so symptoms such as diarrhea, palpitations, sweating, nerves, may appear. tremor, insomnia

These situations can generate very serious complications in the short term, such as heart arrhythmias, or in the long term, such as loss of bone mass, which is why you should consult your doctor immediately.

19. Are selenium supplements good for the thyroid?

Maintaining a physiological selenium concentration is a prerequisite for preventing thyroid disease and preserving general health.

Supplementation with the organic form is more effective and patients with autoimmune thyroiditis seem to have benefits in immunological mechanisms because they manage to reduce antithyroid antibodies and improve their clinical picture.

Selenium supplementation should be supervised by a physician experienced in the subject.

20. Could my mental health picture be caused by some imbalance in my thyroid?

The connection between thyroid dysfunction, abnormal mood, and cognitive disorders receives a very strong association .

Overt hypothyroidism is a cause of major mood disorders, including melancholia.

For this reason, in patients with a tendency to anguish, inability to perform daily tasks, tiredness, or loss of interest in their usual actions, it is always essential to perform a correct thyroid function check .