The discussion on thyroid conditions frequently revolves around their impact on women. This is likely because women are roughly five to eight times more likely than men to develop a thyroid condition. However, there is a significant portion of the male population that suffers from thyroid malfunction, particularly in the form of hypothyroidism.
Unfortunately, while awareness of thyroid conditions is seemingly increasing, the conversation regarding thyroid disease and its effects on men has been ignored. In honor of National Men’s Health Week, we would like to discuss the neglected topic of male hypothyroidism. It is critical that people are made aware of the importance of male thyroid function and the significant impact it has on their bodies.
A Hypothyroidism Crash Course
Experts estimate that 20 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid disease. Although the majority are women, men make up the significant remainder. Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid condition among both men and women.
When a thyroid is low-functioning, it does not release adequate levels of thyroid hormones such as T4 and T3. These and other thyroid hormones regulate numerous bodily functions including one’s metabolism. Without the appropriate concentration and balance of the various thyroid hormones, many bodily systems begin to suffer and malfunction. It is common for those with hypothyroidism to experience a variety of symptoms that do not unequivocally point to a single disease. Sadly, proper diagnosis is not universal and usually requires a physician who is well-educated in thyroid disease.
Recognizing Hypothyroidism in Men
Most symptoms of hypothyroidism are shared between the sexes with the main difference being varying degrees of severity in specific regions. The most common complaints from hypothyroid patients are weight gain, depression, fatigue and brain fog or mental haziness. These symptoms can be attributed to a variety of conditions which is partially why doctors frequently overlook thyroid dysfunction. Additionally, men and doctors alike frequently and wrongly attribute these symptoms as being part of the natural aging process. It is important that men recognize the following symptoms and appreciate that they may be caused by hormonal dysfunction and not simply discount it as a byproduct of aging.
Symptoms associated with male hypothyroidism include:
- Reduced ability to make decisions
- Low self-confidence
- Reduced libido
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Hair loss
- High cholesterol
- Poor stress response
- Inability to build muscle
- Loss of muscle mass and strength
- Decreased testosterone levels
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism that are experienced by both sexes include:
- Dry skin
- Shifts in mood
- Sleep disturbances
- Fertility issues
- Muscle and joint pain or weakness
- Difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly
Thyroid Function and Testosterone
Unsurprisingly, many of the symptoms associated with male hypothyroidism also correlate to reduced testosterone levels and availability. Poor thyroid function leads to reduced levels of circulating thyroid hormones. This impacts a wide variety of hormones, particularly testosterone. Properly regulated levels of testosterone help men combat various diseases, promotes muscle building and retention, lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and improves longevity and quality of life. It is posited that male response to hypothyroidism differs significantly from women because the thyroid has such great influence over testosterone.
Male hypothyroid patients frequently present reduced testosterone levels. As the primary sex hormone in men, any impact on testosterone’s efficacy or availability can lead to cascading malfunctions in the male body. Fatigue, reduced libido, and loss of muscle are common symptoms of testosterone deficiency. As seen above, these symptoms are shared with hypothyroidism.
Poor thyroid function may lead to reduced levels of Sex Hormone-Binding-Globulin (SHBG), which is an important element in testosterone delivery throughout the body. For this reason, lowered levels of thyroid hormone, caused by hypothyroidism or otherwise, can lead to testosterone deficiency. If testosterone cannot reach the appropriate cells and tissues, serious issues can develop.
Ignoring It Won’t Make It Go Away
It is well recognized that men already have a propensity to delay medical assistance and neglect regular testing. This may be in part because men frequently avoid discussions regarding poor sexual performance and reduced brain function. Male thyroid dysfunction is a difficult topic due to its association with these two symptoms in addition to many others. This attitude of neglecting one’s personal health coupled with the decreased prevalence of information for male-specific thyroid conditions has left many men to unnecessarily suffer from thyroid malfunction. However, men are not solely to blame regarding poor diagnosis and treatment of hypothyroidism in men.
Many physicians overlook the possibility of a thyroid condition in men simply because it is more frequently found in women. Common statements from physicians may include suggestions that their male patients are simply overworking themselves, not getting enough sleep, or have too much stress in their lives. Although these may be contributing factors to thyroid dysfunction, without a proper diagnosis a man suffering from hypothyroidism will never achieve optimal health.
Thorough Testing is a Must
One of the primary reasons that thyroid conditions are frequently overlooked is there is a lack of comprehensive testing. Standard tests for thyroid function only evaluate the presence of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) in one’s system. This metric is only useful in evaluating how much the brain is talking with the thyroid and not how well it is functioning or producing thyroid hormones. Acquiring an accurate representation of one’s thyroid function requires testing of TSH, free and total T3, free and total T4, Reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies such as TSI, TPO, and TBG. It is necessary to have a comprehensive image of thyroid function to appropriately treat it.
Don’t Wait to Get Treatment
If the descriptor of male hypothyroidism even partially reflects your current health, it may be beneficial to have your thyroid tested. It is critical that men do not fall into the trap of complacency regarding their health. Although age plays a role in male function and health it is more likely that their “age-related” symptoms can be lessened or relieved through proper diagnosis and treatment of thyroid and hormonal malfunction. Take part in National Men’s Health Week by raising awareness of hypothyroidism and thyroid dysfunction among men.