Underactive Thyroid Symptoms in Men

Written by
The Manual Team
Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
18th May 2021

In 30 seconds

What are the most important underactive thyroid symptoms to recognise? Well, they are notoriously hard to spot. However, tiredness, weight gain, and depression are some of the most common. Other symptoms include constipation, muscle aches and cramps, dry skin, and a sensitivity to cold.

An underactive thyroid — or hypothyroidism — is a condition that occurs when your thyroid does not produce enough thyroxine (T4). It’s usually caused by an autoimmune disease (known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) but may be the result of thyroid cancer or problems with other glands.

While hypothyroidism is more common in women, the symptoms do affect men too. If you don’t spot them early, you can develop further symptoms, such as heart problems, hearing loss, and anaemia. Treatment with artificial hormones, such as levothyroxine, is usually effective.

Spotting the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is a condition that can take people by surprise. Its primary symptoms are shared with many other conditions, and they can develop slowly and gradually over time.

That means that they can be difficult to spot before they become serious. According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), 12% of the US population will have a thyroid condition during their lifetime — and as many as 60% won’t even realise.

As a result, it’s tricky to identify hypothyroidism and it’s common for doctors to test for thyroid disorders if there is no clear sign of another cause for your symptoms. You’ll usually be asked to take a blood test, and the thyroid function test results should make the cause a little clearer. 

An underactive thyroid is more common in women than men — perhaps by as much as eight times, according to the ATA. But if you’re worried that you might have the condition, your first job is to know the symptoms. 

So, what are underactive thyroid symptoms in men? Here, we have the answers.

What is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a condition that affects the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck. Its job is to produce the hormones that regulate some of the crucial processes in your body: your metabolism, your heart rate, and the speed at which you burn calories.

These hormones are known as thyroxine (often described as T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).

A thyroid disorder might accelerate these processes. This would be known as hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid. It happens when the gland produces too many hormones and so your metabolism and heart rate speeds up.

However, hypothyroidism happens when too few hormones are produced. This means that your metabolism slows and that many of the other processes in your body slow down too. As a result, you can put on weight and feel tired.

What causes hypothyroidism?

There are several possible causes of underactive thyroid, including:

  • Autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s disease can cause your immune system to attack the thyroid gland. That means it is less able to produce the hormones that it should. This is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
  • Problems with the pituitary gland. The thyroid is a gland in a long chain of different biological processes. The pituitary gland, for example, produces thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which encourages the thyroid to do its work. As a result, if there is a problem with the pituitary gland, your thyroid may suffer.
  • Thyroid cancer. Cancers of the thyroid can inhibit the gland’s activity.
  • Hyperthyroidism treatment. Unfortunately, the treatment for overactive thyroid can in some cases cause the gland to become underactive.
  • Genetics. In very rare cases, hypothyroidism can be present from birth. This is known as congenital hypothyroidism.

Underactive Thyroid Symptoms

What are the symptoms of an underactive thyroid? Well, whatever the cause, the symptoms are usually pretty similar. 

But, given that those thyroid hormones affect many of the processes across your body, these symptoms can seem quite unconnected, random, and generalised. This means that they are often hard to spot.

Underactive thyroid symptoms are usually the same across men and women. However, in women, it can affect your menstrual cycle too.  

  • Tiredness. Hypothyroidism causes your metabolism to slow, which means that you might not get the energy you need from your food.
  • Weight gain. Similarly, energy is stored rather than burned off, causing you to put on weight.
  • Depression. Thyroid problems may affect the hormones in your brain. While the causal link between depressive symptoms and hypothyroidism is not yet fully established, there is a correlation.
  • Constipation. Hypothyroidism affects your muscles, including those in your colon. It’s a rare symptom, but one to watch out for.
  • Muscles aches, weakness, and cramps. It is not fully clear why, but you may experience muscle weakness, particularly in your hips and shoulders.
  • Low libido. Exacerbated by depressive symptoms and fatigue, an underactive thyroid can cause loss of libido.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome. Fluid can build up in your tissue and around your nerves, giving you tingling and sometimes pain in the extremities.
  • Sensitivity to cold. Without the right hormones, your body struggles to regulate your temperature.

Symptoms of Advanced Hypothyroidism 

If an underactive thyroid goes unnoticed, it can develop into more serious symptoms and may cause some life-threatening conditions. Look out for some of the following.

  • High cholesterol. Thyroid hormones affect your ability to produce and flush away cholesterol. In the long term, untreated hypothyroidism can cause increased cholesterol levels.
  • Heart disease. Thyroid disease affects your heart rate. And if you are not producing enough thyroid hormone, this can pose problems for your cardiovascular health and blood pressure.
  • Hearing loss or changes to your hearing.
  • Anaemia (or anemia) is a condition characterised by a lack of healthy red blood cells. It can be one of the longer-term underactive thyroid symptoms.

Treating an Underactive Thyroid

It all sounds pretty scary. But it needn’t. As we said, thyroid problems are really common – and there are effective ways to manage them.

The first step is to check if you have low levels of thyroid hormones. A thyroid function test — which will analyse your levels of TSH, thyroxine, and triiodothyronine — is the best place to start.

Note: Manual’s Complete Blood Test will measure 7 essential markers for a complete health check-up. This includes thyroid, and also testosterone, triglyceride, cholesterol, vitamin B & D, and HDL.

After a thyroid test, usually a doctor will treat an underactive thyroid with levothyroxine. This is a hormone, produced artificially, that does the work of thyroxine. The good news is that there are no side effects (unless you take too much). But you may have to take it for the rest of your life.

That’s not ideal, we know. However, it won’t dramatically change your lifestyle and should make you feel as good as new.

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Key Takeaways

The key underactive thyroid symptoms? Fatigue, depression, and weight gain are the ones you should look out for. However, achy muscles, dry skin, and low libido are all common too. 

If you’re in any doubt about whether you have the symptoms or not, take the thyroid function test. That’ll show you if there are any problems with your thyroid. It’s the first step in managing your condition.

References

  1. American Thyroid Association (ATA) – General Information/Press Room: https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/

  2. Mirella P. Hage and Sami T. Azar (2012). The Link between Thyroid Function and Depression: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3246784/

  3. William E. Bennett, Jr. and Robert O. Heuckeroth (2016). Hypothyroidism is a rare cause of isolated constipation: 5-year review of all thyroid tests in a pediatric gastroenterology office: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4985619/

  4. C.V Rizos, M.S Elisaf, and E.N Liberopoulos (2011). Effects of Thyroid Dysfunction on Lipid Profile: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3109527/

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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