It may be small, but that butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your throat has a pretty lofty to-do list—like regulating your appetite, energy levels, and even your body temperature. When it's working correctly, we barely even notice it (unless you're the hypochondriac writer of this article), but when it starts to malfunction, the symptoms are varied and hard to ignore.
But before we dive right into all the different things thyroid symptoms can affect, a refresher course is in order: The thyroid is the largest endocrine gland in the body and produces two types of hormones—T3 and T4—that control the rate at which your body burns energy and responds to stress hormones, says R. Mack Harrell, MD, past president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. There are a few ways that this gland can malfunction—two of which are hyperthyroidism (excessive hormone production) and hypothyroidism (low hormone production). Here are 9 surprising things that your thyroid can affect.
1. It can make you thin-skinned or rough to the touch.
"The thyroid controls the rate at which you shed your skin," Harrell says. In those with an overactive thyroid, skin sheds a little faster, often resulting in smoother but thinner skin. An underactive thyroid slows down skin cell turnover, making skin feel rougher. Other skin issues that can result from hyperthyroidism include skin that feels moist or warm, and increased redness of the face and hands, while those with hypothyroidism may experience skin that feels cold and pale, wounds that take longer to heal, and an orange-yellow tint to the skin caused by carotenaemia (the thyroid's failure to convert carotene to vitamin A).
2. It can make you lose a lot of weight or gain a little.
News flash: An underactive thyroid won't result in major weight gain. "A 45kg weight gain is always caused by something more than hypothyroidism, where the average weight gain is less than 2.5kg," Harrell says. On the other hand, hyperthyroidism can result in a substantial weight loss (though Harrell warns it's not a safe way to lose extra pounds). But weight gain and weight loss aren't written in stone with an under- or overactive thyroid since the hormone also regulates appetite. While hyperthyroidism is associated with weight loss, it's also associated with an increased appetite, so despite a faster metabolism, you could actually gain weight by eating too much. The same goes for hypothyroidism, which is associated with weight gain and a decreased appetite, so while your metabolism slows way down, you also lack the desire to eat, which could force you to drop pounds.
3. It can make you a human heater or force you to bundle up.
You're probably catching on by now—hyperthyroidism (or an overactive thyroid) speeds up your normal body processes, giving you a higher metabolic rate. And since you're burning energy faster, you'll feel hot. "People with hyperthyroidism can wake up sweating at night because of the increased energy burn with a rapid heartbeat," Harrell says. On the flip side, hypothyroidism could make you reach for an extra sweatshirt since your body's metabolic rate has slowed down, making you feel colder.
4. It can seriously screw with your emotions.
An overactive thyroid has a kind of manic effect on your emotions, says Harrell. "Hyperthyroid is typically associated with anxiety, hyper emotionality, and even psychosis," Harrell says. An underactive thyroid, however, is associated with feelings of depression and the want to withdraw from social situations. Hypothyroidism could also result in some cognitive issues like forgetfulness or decreased motor skills. In fact, low thyroid levels have been linked to feelings of drunkenness, according to Harrell.
5. It can totally zap your energy.
Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are totally different in the way the body expends energy, but both can result in a seriously pooped human body. With an underactive thyroid, you lack the energy to do pretty much anything—making Netflix and (literally) chill look like heaven, 24/7. That overactive thyroid, however, turns your metabolic rate up to 100, all day, every day, resulting in some serious energy crashes. "Hyperthyroidism drastically increases heart rate, so people are so jacked up that it tires them out quicker," Harrell says. And these low energy levels translate into bedroom issues—sleep schedules and sex drives suffer from hypo- and hyperthyroidism (i.e., you never want to have sex because all you want to do is sleep).
6. It can make your internal plumbing wonky.
You know how hyperthyroidism speeds everything up? Your bowel movements are one of those things—many with an overactive thyroid find themselves running to the restroom more than just a couple times a day, says Harrell. And with hypothyroidism? Yep, you guessed it—constipation. A slowed-down body means fewer and further between bowel movements.
7. It can significantly alter your cycle.
Your lady clock is the most sensitive of hormone indicators—one small change can throw everything out of whack. Your menstrual cycle isn't picky, either. Regardless of hyper- or hypothyroidism, your period could vary between being less frequent and more frequent, and seriously heavy versus incredibly light. Basically, when it comes to a thyroid issue, the first question doctors should ask is if your period has been disturbed in any way, Harrell says. "If a patient has normal cycles with consistent and normal flow, then everything is right with the world," Harrell says. If your menstrual cycles are screwed up and something just seems off with your body, Harrell suggests seeing a doctor right away, since menstruation inconsistencies are the first sign of a hormone issue.
8. It can make you consider Rogaine.
Hair loss can happen with both underactive and overactive thyroids—just in different ways, Harrell says. While thinning hair as a result of hyperthyroidism is more diffuse and happens uniformly on the scalp and body, hypothyroidism can cause sufferers to lose the outer edges of their eyebrows (Hint: See a doc ASAP if you experience this—not only for your bod's sake, but for the sake of your beautiful brows, too).
9. It can do some weird stuff to your eyes.
Have you ever seen photos online of people with seriously bulging eyes? They're probably suffering from Graves' disease, a type of hyperthyroidism, which can cause the eyes to appear open in a wide-eyed stare. An extra accumulation of tissue behind the eyes is to blame for this, giving the peepers a puffed-out look.
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.