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Thyroid Diseases

Symptoms of Thyroid Problems

04/25/2006

Question:

Someone I know had tingling hands, rapid heartbeat, edema, and sluggish thinking. At first doctors thought he had a heart attack, but then they said it was likely his thyroid and are testing him. If he is sluggish, I would think that it is hypothyroidism, but can someone have a rapid heart rate if it`s hypothyroidism? And if it were hyperthyroidism, that doesn`t fit with the sluggishness. I don`t understand; can you try to please clarify?

Answer:

These symptoms are a mixture.  Some suggest hypothyroidism and some suggest hyperthyroidism.  For example, the tingling hands could possibly occur in severe hypothyroidism.  The rapid heartbeat would suggest hyperthyroidism.  The edema and sluggish thinking would suggest hypothyroidism.  However, hyperthyroidism can make you tired, which some people might describe as feeling "sluggish," so that symptom isn't really specific for either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. 

Of all the findings you describe, the most specific is the rapid heart beat.  Of course, lots of things can cause a rapid heart beat, but an overactive thyroid is one of the more common.  The case you describe brings up a common problem: many of the symptoms of thyroid disease are very non-specific, and it is rather common for patients to complain of a mixture of symptoms that could be consistent with either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. 

Fortunately, the blood tests are very good and it should be pretty simple for your friend's doctors to determine what part, if any, the thyroid plays in his problems.

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Response by:

Thomas A Murphy, MD, FACP, FACE Thomas A Murphy, MD, FACP, FACE
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University