Thyroid Problems in Men

Thyroid disease is often thought of as something that affects women, and indeed most cases of thyroid problems occur in females. But men definitely can suffer abnormalities of this small gland that controls endocrine function and metabolism. In fact, as many as five percent of all men may experience a thyroid disorder at any point in their lives. What are some thyroid problems you may encounter if you're male?

Thyroid cancer. More than 35,000 people are diagnosed in this country every year with thyroid cancer, and while the majority are female, men are susceptible as well. In fact, when it comes to the least common type of thyroid cancer, anaplastic tumors, men are twice as likely to be diagnosed as women.

This aggressive cancer normally spreads to the lymph glands and distant organs, and survival rates are low. The only chance of survival is to catch it early. What to look for? Usually, thyroid cancer presents as a painless lump on one side of the neck. As it grows, it may cause pressure and swallowing difficulties. Anaplastic thyroid cancer, however, often causes a cough (sometimes with blood), hoarseness, and a rapidly enlarging lump on the neck.

Hypothyroidism. This is typically the province of middle-aged women, but men can suffer from it also. The most common thyroid disorder, it happens when patients don't produce enough thyroid hormone. What do you need to watch out for? People with hypothyroidism often feel cold, even when everyone else is warm, and suffer from cold hands and feet year round. They also may be fatigued and find themselves gaining weight. Joint or muscle pain, brittle hair and nails, and depression can also be tip-offs. Treatment involves taking synthetic thyroid hormone to restore the gland to its normal function.

Hyperthyroidism. Basically the opposite of hypothyroidism, this disorder occurs when thyroid hormone is overproduced. You may find yourself feeling inexplicably nervous or irritable, weak, or constantly hot. You may have tremors in your hand or a rapid, irregular heartbeat. You also may notice that you're losing weight. Hyperthyroidism can be caused by nodules on the thyroid gland or as a result of taking too much thyroid hormone to control hypothyroidism. Certain medications may bring thyroid hormone levels in line, or you may be steered toward radioiodine therapy, which destroys thyroid cells but nothing else. Surgery is considered as a last resort.

Although thyroid problems are comparatively rare in men, they do exist. Talk to your doctor about getting your thyroid tested if thyroid disease runs in your family or if you suffer from type 1 diabetes. And if you've had thyroid disease before, you may run the risk of developing it again.


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

University of Michigan