What it feels like to have a thyroid problem

3rd March, 2023 • 9 min read

Did you know that women are much more likely to get thyroid problems than men? So it’s time we talked about these conditions. Read women’s experiences of living with overactive and underactive thyroid, and dealing with thyroid cancer.

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“Being female means you’re about 10 times more likely to get a thyroid condition,” says Dr Ann Nainan, family doctor and Healthily expert.

Research shows that about 1 in 8 females will get a thyroid problem at some point. So it’s a good idea for women to know the facts (check out our thyroid problems guide) and share their experiences.

Why sharing thyroid stories and tips can help

  • “thyroid problems can be easy to mistake for other issues,” says Dr Ann. For example, weight gain and low mood linked to an underactive thyroid may be thought of as depression, or heart palpitations and sweating linked to an overactive thyroid could be mistaken for early menopause. So sharing stories and tips can help other women get the right diagnosis and treatment
  • “knowing you’re not alone can give you the confidence to explore your symptoms further – with the Healthily Smart Symptom Checker, for example – and go to see your doctor if you need to”
  • “it can sometimes take a while for thyroid treatments to kick in, and you might need to go through the process of adjusting your dose with your doctor to get the right treatment for you – so knowing how other women coped can help you stay hopeful”

So keep reading to hear other women’s experiences of thyroid problems.

What are underactive thyroid symptoms like?

Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) affects about 1 in 20 Americans over 12, and gets more common as you get older,” says Dr Ann.

Here’s how some women found the symptoms made them feel, how they affected their everyday life, and how they got treated.

“I was cold and lost my hair – but with treatment I’m back”

Alison was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid at 44, but believes she’d had symptoms for 15 years before that. These had gone undiagnosed as she “normalized them” and put them down to other things.

She recalls always having to wear lots of layers of clothes, as she was cold all the time, and having to write everything down as her memory was bad. She says her face changed shape and became rounder, and she remembers a huge clump of hair coming out when she was brushing it – which she found really upsetting.

“When my doctor told me I had hypothyroidism, I was really really shocked. But more than shocked, I was bitter and angry, and thought, ‘Why has this happened to me?’ I grieved for the person I used to be.”

Alison’s condition was treated with levothyroxine medication. And although it took a while to find the dose that worked best for her, she says she’s now back to normal.

“One morning I realized, ‘I’m back’. I feel happy, enthusiastic, and I’m really busy. I’ve gone back to work and love it – I never complain, as I appreciate life now.”

Read more about underactive thyroid treatment.

“I was tired, with itchy skin and weight gain – but 6 months of treatment sorted it”

Maret, 40, was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid after years of symptoms – including feeling so tired she didn’t know how she’d make it through the day, as well as itchy skin and weight gain.

“I started to put on weight, even though I was cycling 7 miles a day taking my son to school and back. I also became depressed, and would forget things at work. My hands and feet felt cold and I had itchy skin.”

“At one stage I was so tired, I’d come back from taking my son to school and go to bed, setting the alarm for when I had to pick him up.”

Maret was diagnosed when her doctor did a thyroid function test after she had a miscarriage. She was prescribed levothyroxine, and says she felt her energy start to return about 1 month later, then felt back to normal after 6 months. And 4 years later, although her doctor is still tweaking her medicine dose, she says all her symptoms have gone.

Read more about thyroid function tests and scans.

“Weight gain and fatigue really got me down – and it took real effort to feel better”

Lori, 53, says that people don’t understand that the symptoms of thyroid conditions can be life-changing and depressing.

She was diagnosed with underactive thyroid after she gained 45lbs in 8 weeks. After several appointments, blood tests and scans, she was prescribed levothyroxine. She didn’t see an immediate change to her symptoms. But gradually, over several months, she began to notice she had more energy.

“The fatigue that accompanies hypothyroidism is very hard to deal with, and carrying the extra weight did nothing to stop that,” says Lori. She feels that trying to deal with her weight gain was like “trying to push a boulder uphill”, and it took her 3 years to get back to her normal weight.

Read more about treatment for underactive thyroid.

What’s it like to have an overactive thyroid?

Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism is most common between the ages of 20 and 40, but the symptoms can sometimes be put down to other causes,” says Dr Ann.

Here’s how some women experienced it, and got the treatment they needed.

“I had night sweats and heart palpitations”

Alison was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid after noticing she was losing weight without trying, and waking at night drenched in sweat and with heart palpitations.

She thought she was having an early menopause, but visited her doctor and tested positive for hyperthyroidism.

The following months were a challenge physically, and the emotional impact on Alison and her family was huge. “I was even overwhelmed by simple tasks such as helping with homework – something I’d previously enjoyed. My attention span was that of a gnat.”

Although medication gave Alison some relief and periods of stability, she had lots of relapses over the next 3 years, when the symptoms came back. After talking it through with her doctor, she eventually chose a long-term solution – radioactive iodine treatment. Along with levothyroxine tablets – which she has to take every day – this has sorted out her symptoms.

About 7 years on from her diagnosis, Alison no longer has big fluctuations in her thyroxine levels, and only needs occasional tweaks to her dose. “Thyroid disease is not just a physical illness. It also has a huge impact on mental health, something that’s not always obvious.”

Read more about overactive thyroid treatment.

“I could barely get up from the sofa – but now I’ve run a marathon”

Natasha developed hair loss, along with new mood changes. “I was used to feeling fear and anxiety when pushing my boundaries, but not just when leaving home for work in the morning. As the months and then years went by, with the weight gain and the weight loss, my levels of energy fluctuated between non-existent and very low.”

She was eventually diagnosed with Graves’ disease – a condition where your immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid gland, causing it to become overactive.

Natasha says she took anti-thyroid medication for 4 years, but the dose had to be constantly adjusted to control her symptoms. When her symptoms meant her eyes completely changed shape, she says she didn’t recognize her own face. She talked to her doctor and decided to go for surgery to remove her thyroid gland.

After her surgery, Natasha was determined to get back to being her old self: “fun, outgoing, worry-free, adventurous and up for anything.” She has now recovered enough to run a marathon – something she never dreamed she would have the energy for when she was unwell.

Dealing with thyroid cancer

“Thyroid cancer is rare, and mainly affects women in their 30s and over 60,” says Dr Ann. “It’s usually treatable – and in many cases curable – with radiotherapy treatment, radioactive iodine, chemotherapy or surgery.”

“I had a neck lump that didn’t go away – now I’m on the road to recovery”

Chris, 30, says she was completely shaken to be diagnosed with thyroid cancer, as she felt fine and there was no history of it in her family. She was diagnosed after she had an ultrasound scan on a swelling in her neck that didn’t go away.

She had surgery to remove her thyroid gland and lymph nodes from the right side of her neck. “I just felt resigned to get through it. I didn’t feel strong or a warrior, I was just doing what I had to do.”

Chris said she needed talking therapy after her surgery, to help her accept what had happened and start enjoying life again. “It’s still difficult sometimes, as my throat often hurts and I’ve got some swallowing issues, but I’m trying to be kind to myself.”

“You don’t expect thyroid cancer when you’re young”

Krirstin, 32, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer after an abnormal spot was picked up on her thyroid gland by chance when she had a CT scan for a bacterial ear infection. She says it was a shock.

“When you’re younger, you don’t expect this. We think about breast, womb and ovarian cancer, but thyroid cancers aren’t on your radar.”

She remembers that before the surgery to remove part of her thyroid gland, she had a lot of fatigue and trouble focusing, as well as sweating. “I don’t know if it had anything to do with my thyroid lesion... Even though my thyroid hormones were in the normal range before the surgery, I felt that something wasn’t right.”

Kristin’s surgery was successful. She says it took a few months for her energy levels to return, but by 5 months she “felt different – in a good way.”

Read more about thyroid cancer, including symptoms and how it’s treated.

Looking for more information?

Check out the Healthily guide to thyroid problems, which includes information on other types of thyroid issues, as well as tests and treatments.

Some names have been changed to protect individual’s privacy. Quotes are the views of the authors of these statements and are not necessarily the views of Healthily, its medical team or its writers.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.