Causes of thyroid problems

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on February 11, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Thyroid disease is a common condition affecting more than 20 million people, but what causes thyroid problems?

If you’re curious about the causes of thyroid problems, including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, we break down the key points to know below.


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What are the main causes of thyroid problems?

Although the thyroid is a small gland located at the base of your neck, it plays a major role in your overall health and wellness. When your body over- or under-produces thyroid hormones, it can affect you in different ways. Overproduction of thyroid hormone is referred to as hyperthyroidism, and underproduction is known as hypothyroidism.


Want to learn more about common thyroid disease symptoms? Check out this blog!


What causes these thyroid problems? Let’s break down some of the potential conditions that can contribute to hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, starting with hypothyroidism:

  • Thyroiditis: When your thyroid gland is inflamed or swollen, lowering the amount of hormones your thyroid produces
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: An inherited autoimmune condition where the body’s cells attack and damage the thyroid
  • Postpartum thyroiditis: This condition occurs in 5% to 9% of women after childbirth and is usually temporary
  • Iodine deficiency: Iodine is used by the thyroid to produce hormones and when your body doesn’t produce enough iodine, your thyroid cannot function properly
  • A non-functioning thyroid gland: Sometimes, the thyroid gland doesn’t work correctly from birth. This affects about 1 in 4,000 newborns, and if left untreated, the child could have both physical and mental issues in the future

Conditions that can cause hyperthyroidism include:

  • Graves’ disease: A condition that may cause the thyroid gland to be overactive and produce too much hormone.
  • Nodules: Hyperthyroidism can be caused by overactive nodules (abnormal growths of thyroid cells within the thyroid)
  • Thyroiditis: When your thyroid gland is inflamed or swollen, lowering the amount of hormones your thyroid produces
  • Excessive iodine: When you have too much iodine (the mineral that is used to make thyroid hormones) in your body, the thyroid makes more thyroid hormones than it needs.

What causes thyroid problems among women?

According to the American Thyroid Association, women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems. And of the women who develop a thyroid dysfunction during their life, 1 in 5 has it as a result of genetic mutation of the TSHB gene.

The following thyroid-related diseases affect more women than men:

  • Disorders that cause hypothyroidism
  • Disorders that cause hyperthyroidism
  • Thyroiditis, especially postpartum thyroiditis
  • Goiter
  • Thyroid nodules
  • Thyroid cancer

Because women are more likely than men to have a thyroid condition, there are several symptoms that exclusively affect women and child-bearing individuals with thyroid disease. For example, pregnant women with undiagnosed or inadequately treated hypothyroidism have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, and severe developmental problems in their children.

Additionally, women with thyroid disorders may experience problems with their menstrual cycles, fertility issues, and problems during pregnancy.

Can stress cause thyroid problems?

While stress alone does not cause thyroid disorders, it can certainly make the condition worse. Your thyroid is responsible for controlling many of the body’s key activities by releasing specific hormones into the bloodstream. So when your thyroid isn’t functioning properly, it can have an effect on:

  • Metabolism (and weight)
  • Body temperature
  • Heart rate
  • Stomach/bowel movements
  • Skin
  • Mental health

In short, your body requires the right balance of thyroid hormone levels in order to effectively carry out many of its functions—and stress can have an even greater, negative impact on someone with a thyroid disorder.


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How do you fix thyroid problems?

Like most other health conditions, everyone’s experience with thyroid disease is different and somewhat unique to the individual. Therefore, treatment can vary from person to person and you should work with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment plan for you.

Standard treatment for hypothyroidism may involve taking a daily use of the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine.

Treatments for hyperthyroidism may include:

  • Radioactive iodine
  • Anti-thyroid medications
  • Beta-blockers
  • Surgery (thyroidectomy)

Skip the waiting rooms and surprise lab testing bills, and check on your thyroid hormone levels from the comfort of your home. Take the Everlywell Thyroid Test to measure your 3 main thyroid hormones plus thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPOab).


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References

1. Thyroid Disease. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed February 11, 2021.

2. General Information/Press Room. American Thyroid Association. URL. Accessed February 11, 2021.

3. Thyroid disease. Office on Women's Health. URL. Accessed February 11, 2021.

4. Thyroid Disease & Pregnancy. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. URL. Accessed February 11, 2021.

5. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 11, 2021.

6. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 11, 2021.

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