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Why do I keep gaining weight? Do I have a thyroid disorder?

why do I keep gaining weight

How do you know whether the change to your weight is due to a health condition? Change in body weight can happen for many different reasons, sometimes it can be the result of abnormal metabolic behavior due to a thyroid disorder. Your metabolism, controlled by thyroid hormones, impacts the function of many processes, not just within the endocrine system. Should there be a significant change to how your metabolism is working,  weight gain or loss won’t be the only disruption to your life. We’ll discuss possible thyroid conditions, causes and symptoms of each disorder, risk factors that may lead to a thyroid condition, and possible treatments.

Thyroid Disorders

Managing a thyroid condition shouldn’t keep you from leading a normal life, even though a thyroid disorder is often a  life-long condition requiring consistent management. Once you have figured out a suitable treatment method, the impact of thyroid disorder symptoms will do minimal damage to your overall lifestyle outside of slight changes to your daily routine. 

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What is the thyroid, anyway?

The thyroid is part of the endocrine system. It’s a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck above the collarbone. The thyroid produces hormones that are important for your bodily systems to function normally. These hormones influence your metabolism by telling your body how much energy should be used. The pituitary gland monitors these metabolic processes.

Thyroid Conditions

Most thyroid conditions can generally be classified in two ways. Your thyroid may underproduce or overproduces thyroid hormones. There are a few different thyroid conditions including: 

  1. Goiter is a condition causing thyroid enlargement. 

  2. Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid produces more hormones than your body can use. 

  3. Hypothyroidism is the opposite of hyperthyroidism. With hypothyroidism, the thyroid doesn’t make enough hormones for normal function. 

  4. Thyroiditis causes swelling. This swelling can reduce thyroid hormone production. 

  5. Thyroid nodules are lumps in the thyroid gland. These nodules are often overactive and can lead to hyperthyroidism. 

  6. Thyroid cancer. 

Causes and Symptoms of Thyroid Disorders

Your primary care provider will use your medical history, give a physical exam, perform specific thyroid tests, and sometimes do a biopsy to diagnose a thyroid condition. Blood tests measure how many thyroid hormones are in your blood. There is a range of blood tests that can diagnose different conditions. 

Your health care provider can also examine the thyroid for abnormalities by using imaging tests like ultrasounds. It can be challenging to get an accurate diagnosis because thyroid disorders have similar symptoms to other conditions. Causes of hyperthyroidism include Graves’ Disease, toxic adenomas, subacute thyroiditis, cancer, or pituitary gland malfunctions. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, gland removal, exposure to excessive iodide, or lithium can cause hypothyroidism. Hair loss is a possible side effect of thyroid disorders, particularly hypothyroidism. 

Symptoms for hyperthyroidism include:

  • Restlessness or a racing heart

  • Irritability, nervousness, or anxiety

  • Increased sweating or shaking

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Thin skin

  • Brittle hair and nails

  • Muscle weakness or tremors

  • Weight loss

  • Enlarged thyroid (goiter)

  • Irregular periods

  • Heat sensitivity

  • Eye irritation or vision problems

Symptoms for hypothyroidism include:

  • Fatigue

  • Dry hair or skin

  • Increased sensitivity to cold

  • Memory problems

  • Constipation

  • Depression

  • Weight gain

  • Weakness

  • Slow heart rate

  • Frequent and heavy periods

  • Hoarse voice

Goiter can cause swelling or tightness in your neck, difficulty breathing or swallowing, coughing or wheezing, or voice hoarseness. The symptoms you experience with thyroid nodules depend on the cause of the nodules. These symptoms can overlap with either hyper- or hypothyroidism.

Risk Factors and Treatment for Thyroid Disorders

The goal of any thyroid disorder treatment method is to return thyroid hormone levels to normal. Treatment could include medicine, radioiodine therapy, or surgery. 

For hyperthyroidism, treatment can include medication to prevent the production of thyroid hormones, radioactive iodine, beta blockers (to help control symptoms), or surgery to remove your thyroid. In the case of surgery, you’ll need to take thyroid replacement hormones from then on. The primary method of treatment for hypothyroidism is also thyroid replacement medication. 

Risk factors include:

  • Family history

  • Medical conditions including anemia or type 1 diabetes

  • Medications with high concentrations of iodine

  • Age (60+, especially women)

  • Treatment for previous thyroid conditions

If you have a thyroid condition, you will most likely have to manage it for the rest of your life. You can help manage your condition by living healthfully. Getting regular exercise, getting enough sleep, following a healthy diet, and getting regular checkups from your primary care provider all play a role in living healthfully. You can also perform a thyroid self-exam. Set up a mirror and aim it in a way in which you can see your thyroid. Take a sip of water with your head tilted back. When you swallow, focus on your thyroid and search for lumps or bumps on the gland. 

If you notice any lumps or bumps or are experiencing other symptoms associated with a thyroid disorder, check out multiple resources to answer specific questions you may have. We also suggest getting in touch with your primary care provider.

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