How Do I Know if I Have a Thyroid Problem?

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on December 12, 2022
3 min read

Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, along the front of your windpipe. It makes hormones that help control many parts of your metabolism, like how fast your heart beats and how fast you burn calories.

Women are more likely to have a problem with their thyroid than men -- about 1 in 8 women are affected.

The most common issues with the thyroid are hypothyroidism, when the gland doesn’t make enough hormones, and hyperthyroidism, when it makes too many.

It can be hard to know that you have hyperthyroidism because its symptoms are a lot like those of other conditions. They can include:

  • Larger appetite than usual
  • Sudden weight loss, even though you’re eating the same amount of food or more
  • Fast or uneven heartbeat or sudden pounding of your heart (palpitations)
  • Nervousness, anxiety, or irritability
  • Trembling in your hands and fingers (called tremors)
  • Sweating
  • Changes in your period
  • Increased sensitivity to heat
  • Changes in bowel movements, especially more frequent ones
  • Swelling at the base of your neck
  • Feeling tired or like your muscles are weak
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Thinner skin
  • Fine, brittle hair

It’s rare, but you also could have thyroid eye disease. It’s a condition that makes your eyes red and swollen to the point that they seem to bulge. This also can cause blurred or double vision, tearing, and discomfort, and can make you more sensitive to light. People who smoke are more likely to have this.

The signs can be different for everyone, and you may not notice any early on. But low levels of thyroid hormones eventually can slow down some of your body’s systems. You may:

A simple blood test to check your thyroid’s hormone levels is all that’s needed to find out if you have hypothyroidism.

For hyperthyroidism, your doctor will see if your thyroid gland is bigger than it should be or if your pulse is too fast. They’ll also look for a tremor in your fingers when you hold them out straight.

If they think you may have it, they’ll want to do a blood test to check your thyroid hormone levels. They may also recommend a thyroid scan using a small amount of radioactive tracer to see how your thyroid is working. Another option is a test called a radioactive iodine uptake test (RAIU) to see if it’s working like it should. For this, you’ll take a small dose of radioactive iodine by mouth. A sensor will be used to find out how much of the iodine your thyroid takes in. The tracer will then leave your body when you pee.