The thyroid is a gland in the neck that produces hormones needed by cells in the body in order to work properly. These endocrine hormones, called T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine), control the body's use of energy and are key factors in helping kids grow.
Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid is too active and produces too much T4 and T3; hypothyroidism is when the thyroid doesn't produce enough of these hormones.
Also known as thyrotoxicosis, where the thyroid produces an excessive amount of thyroxine, hyperthyroidism can result in increased metabolic rate, enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter), rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and exophthalmos (protruding eyes). One of the more common causes of hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune disorder called Graves' disease.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include feeling uncomfortably hot without reason, unexplained weight loss or gain, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, trembling hands, irregular heartbeat (palpitations), and increased irritability. When hyperthyroidism is severe, patients can suffer shortness of breath, chest pain, and muscle weakness.
Hypothyroidism, caused by underactivity of the thyroid gland, can cause fatigue, cramps, slowed heart rate, weight gain, and mental sluggishness. The symptoms may vary from mild to severe; the most severe form is called myxedema and is classified as a medical emergency.
Hypothyroidism can be caused by a disease known as Hashimoto's thyroiditis, in which the body's immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism may also be caused failure of the pituitary gland to secrete enough hormones to stimulate the thyroid gland (secondary hypothyroidism). Congenital defects, surgical removal of the thyroid gland, irradiation of the gland, or inflammatory conditions may also cause hypothyroidism.
People who are over the age of 50, female, or obese, or those who have had thyroid surgery or exposure of the neck to X-ray or radiation treatments, are at increased risk of developing hypothyroidism.
Social Security discusses thyroid gland disorders under listing 9.0, for endocrine disorders. However, Social Security does not list specific disability criteria for thyroid disorders, probably because many people can control their thyroid disorder with medication. Instead, the agency directs patients with complications due to hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, including heart problems, strokes, unintentional weight gain or loss, depression, and anxiety to other disability listings. Here is how the SSA evaluates these thyroid-related complications.
If your thyroid disorder doesn't cause the above complications, you may still be able to convince Social Security that you don't have the capacity to work a full-time job. Social Security will decide what your residual functional capacity is (the type of work that you can do: sedentary, light, medium, or heavy work) by looking at the limitations in your medical records, such as issues with standing or walking for long periods, muscle weakness, or fatigue.