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Thyroid Symptoms: Spotting a Hidden Health Risk for Men

Although often thought of as a women's health issue, problems with the thyroid gland also present a significant health threat for men, with males accounting for approximately two of every ten people treated for thyroid symptoms.

What is the Thyroid Gland?

 Thyroxine Molecule

The thyroid gland is one of the most important organs of the body's endocrine system in terms of overall health and wellness. The endocrine system is a network of glands throughout the body that produce and secrete hormones. Hormones are powerful chemical messengers that play vital roles in most every vital organ, function and system of the body. Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, which is the way that the body processes and utilizes energy, making them essential to the function of virtually every cell in the body.

Specifically, the thyroid gland produces the hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). When these hormones become unbalanced, as occurs with thyroid disease or dysfunction, metabolic rates are affected. This creates a situation that can produce an array of physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms, and if left untreated, can lead to serious long-term health problems. Fortunately, thyroid problems can be detected with thyroid function testing, and in most cases, treated successfully, alleviating thyroid symptoms and reducing health risks.

Common Thyroid Problems

Hypothyroidism, or under-active thyroid, is a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce or secrete sufficient amounts of thyroid hormones, resulting in a sluggish metabolic rate. Common causes of deficient thyroid hormone production include auto-immune disorders, in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, previous or ongoing hyperthyroid treatment or medications, thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid gland, radiation therapy, iodine deficiency and certain medications.

Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, is a condition that causes the thyroid to produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormones, accelerating the metabolic rate. The most common cause of overactive thyroid, according to the American Thyroid Association, is Graves' Disease - an auto-immune disorder that tends to run in families. Growths on the thyroid, called nodules, can spur excess hormone production, as can thyroiditis, overuse of iodine supplements, or regular use of iodine containing medications.

Common Thyroid Symptoms in Men

Depression as symptom of thyroid problems in men

Thyroid symptoms that frequently present in men with an underactive thyroid include:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • and muscle wasting, especially in the upper arms and thighs.

Men may develop dry skin, experience hair loss, sweat less than normal and become less tolerant of cold. Muscle cramps and joint pain may become a problem, as may puffiness or swelling in the face.

Common symptoms of overactive thyroid can include:

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • and difficulty with concentration and memory.
Bulging eye symptoms of Graves Disease

Men with hyperthyroidism may sweat profusely and be very heat intolerant. Irregular heartbeat and palpitations may occur, and tremors, muscle weakness and weight loss are common. Skin and hair may become thin and brittle and bowel movements more frequent, and there may be swelling or pain in the neck. When Graves' disease is at the root of hyperthyroidism, swelling may occur behind the eyes, causing them to appear enlarged or bulge outwards. One of the most famous sufferers of this disease is the comedian ‘Marty Feldman’ who actually exploited it in his work.

A lesser-known, but very common, symptom of both underactive and overactive thyroid in men is sexual dysfunction. In a study published in the December, 2005 issue of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers evaluated the prevalence of sexual dysfunctions in patients with hyper- and hypothyroidism. According to study authors, most men with thyroid disorders experience sexual difficulties, as imbalances in thyroid hormones affect testosterone levels, resulting in thyroid symptoms that can include reduced sex drive, premature or delayed ejaculation and erectile dysfunction. Researchers also note that these issues are rapidly reversed with treatment to normalize levels of thyroid hormones in the system.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Men who are experiencing any of the symptoms above, even if they are relatively minor, would be wise to err on the side of caution by having thyroid function testing done. This is a fairly simple procedure, done by means of a blood test, to measure levels of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream, including Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, or TSH, thyroxine, or T4, and triiodothyronine, or T3.

Thyroid function testing can be requested from a physician, or men can order tests directly from medical testing services such as Health Testing Centers. Health Testing Centers offers easy online ordering of thyroid function tests, a network of more than 1400 affiliated laboratory locations and direct delivery of results to the patient, allowing individuals greater control of their own health needs.

If hormone function testing indicates an underactive thyroid gland, synthetic hormone medications are typically used to restore balance. Overactive thyroid symptoms may be treated with medications to suppress hormone production, radioactive iodine to destroy a percentage of hormone-producing thyroid cells, or surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland.

By Keith Kloss, Health Testing Centers