Most people associate thyroid disease with women, but the truth is that men are also susceptible to thyroid problems, and the number of men affected is rising. Because women are up to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with thyroid disease, doctors frequently miss thyroid problems in men. And men themselves may not realize some of the issues they’re noticing are related to thyroid disease, or they may brush them off as normal parts of aging or think they’re “no big deal” if their lifestyle isn’t being impacted. Add to that the fact that men tend to visit doctors far less frequently than women, and you can see why so many men remain undiagnosed.
While there are thyroid symptoms specific to men, there are also a number of symptoms that are shared by both men and women. These include:
Hypothyroidism (underproduction of thyroid hormone)
- Slow metabolism (weight gain, difficulty with weight loss)
- Cognitive issues (problems with concentration, memory, attention, multi-tasking)
- Intolerance to cold
- Dry, cool, and/or pale skin
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss
- Mood fluctuation (depression, irritability, aggressiveness, etc.)
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain or weakness, cramping, stiffness
- High cholesterol
- Weight gain
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Weight loss
- Sweating/feeling hot
- Heart palpitations or faster heartbeat
- Nervousness/feeling anxious
- Sleep problems
Men who are experiencing thyroid dysfunction may also experience symptoms that are more common to their sex, which include:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Low sex drive
- Baldness/hair loss
- Trouble growing facial hair
- Lower testosterone levels
- Decreased muscle mass/strength
- Low sperm count
Since men usually experience thyroid problems after the age of forty, the above symptoms are easy to misdiagnose or overlook as part of aging. And since doctors may not consider the possibility of thyroid dysfunction in their male patients, men may need to specifically request thyroid testing themselves. Even if a male patient isn’t sure that thyroid is the cause of their symptoms, by ruling it out, their doctor can more accurately focus on other potential causes. It’s best to take a pro-active approach because thyroid problems only get worse if they’re not addressed and can lead to more serious health issues (including heart disease, nerve injury and more), so doing nothing can create a far bigger problem.
It’s important to remember that, as I mentioned in a previous blog post titled “Could I Have Thyroid Disease and Not Know It?”, standard testing for TSH levels isn’t enough—they only scratch the surface and your results may appear normal, but more comprehensive blood tests can catch thyroid problems earlier.
If you’re a man diagnosed with thyroid disease, you may be asking, “How did I get thyroid disease?” It can be hard to pinpoint, but there are several factors that could be at the root of male thyroid disease. There could be a genetic factor—a man whose father had thyroid disease has an increased chance of having thyroid problems. Low testosterone can be at either end of the spectrum—it can be a cause or a result of thyroid dysfunction; it can also make men more prone to Hashimoto’s disease, where the immune system attacks the thyroid. Hashimoto’s can then lead to hypothyroidism.
This is just the short list—many factors including stress can play a role in thyroid disease, and your functional medicine doctor can help make that determination and put you on the path to healing.