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Everything you need to know about Hypothyroidism

Everything you need to know about hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, also referred to as underactive thyroid or low thyroid, is a common disorder.  As the name itself suggests, your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone.

The thyroid gland is located in the front lower part of your neck.  Thyroid hormone is one of the many hormones required for normal functioning of the body.  This hormone travels through your bloodstream and affects nearly every part of your body.

Thyroid hormone maintains the body’s metabolic rate.  So understandably, those with hypothyroidism have symptoms associated with slow metabolism.  The patient invariably tends to feel fatigued and devoid of energy.

Causative factors:

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – Thyroiditis implies inflammation of the thyroid gland. This is an autoimmune disorder where your body produces antibodies that attack and destroy the thyroid gland.   The damaged thyroid cells are incapable of producing enough thyroid hormone to meet the needs of the body. Viral infections can also lead to inflammation of the thyroid.
  • Iodine deficient diet– Iodine is an essential nutrient in diet used by thyroid gland to produce the thyroid hormone. The deficiency of which can lead to a gamut of problems like hypothyroidism, goiter and development delays in children.  Include iodine rich food in your diet.  Good sources of iodine are iodized table salt, saltwater fish, eggs, dairy products, shellfish etc…
  • Medical treatments – In case of treating cancers such as lymphoma, radiation therapy is used on the neck area. Radiation invariably destroys the healthy cells along with the worrisome ones leaving little scope for the remaining thyroid cells to produce sufficient hormone.  In case the treatment warrants surgical removal of the affected area, a portion of the thyroid gland may be removed leaving the rest unable to cope with the demand.
  • Radioactive iodine treatment – Used to treat thyroid conditions like goiter. In benign conditions, this treatment is used to arrest the kill the affected part of the thyroid and arrest the growth of goiter and prevent it from producing too much hormone.   In this case only, radiation does it work more than needed leaving more cells damaged.  Consequently within a year or two, the patient turns hypothyroid.
  • Medications – Certain medications used to treat cancer, psychiatric conditions and heart problems can adversely affect the production of thyroid hormone. Some of these are amiodarone, lithium, interferon alpha and interleukin-2.
  • Congenital hypothyroidism – Some are unfortunately born with an underdeveloped thyroid gland right from birth. During pregnancy if the mother has hypothyroidism, since the baby receives the thyroid hormone from the mother. The child receives less thyroid hormone.  Consequently mental impairment occurs in babies.
  • Pregnancy – For some women immediately after pregnancy, they developed inflammation of the thyroid causing a severe increase in thyroid levels.  This is called postpartum thyroiditis.  This has been noticed to be followed by a sharp drop in thyroid hormone levels.  Thankfully this is only an intermittent stage and most women regain their normal thyroid function soon enough.
  • Pituitary gland disorder– the pituitary gland produces the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which signals the thyroid gland to produce hormone. Any malfunctioning of the pituitary gland causes a consecutive effect in the thyroid hormone production.
  • Hypothalamus disorder­– In most cases, hypothyroidism is caused by a problem with the thyroid gland. Hypothalamus in the brain is responsible for the production of a hormone called TRH which affects the production of TSH produced by pituitary gland.  Any malfunctioning in any of these glands can alter the production of thyroid hormone gland.  This comes under the preview of secondary hypothyroidism and is extremely rare.

Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Unexplained Weight gain
  • Swelling of thyroid gland as in case of goiter
  • Hoarseness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Elevated blood cholesterol level
  • Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
  • Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Thinning hair
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Impaired memory

Women are more prone to hypothyroidism than men.  Since it is hereditary, you may be at an increased risk of developing it if your close family member is a sufferer.

Diagnosis of hypothyroidism

Blood tests, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4) are commonly used to reveal the condition in the body.  Apart from physical exam of thyroid for presence of goiter and blood tests, thyroid ultrasound is also used to check for inflammation.

Treatment of Hypothyroidism

Your doctor would prescribe synthetic thyroid hormone T4.  This needs to be taken orally every day.  In severe cases, the medicine needs to be administered intravenously.  These medications include:

  • Synthroid
  • Levothyroxine
  • Armour thyroid
  • Levoxyl
  • Cytomel

Regular blood tests need to be done and medication dosages adjusted from time to time.

In extreme cases, hypothyroidism can lead to myexedema, a comatose condition which can even lead to death.  So for a patient or for a healthy individual, it is of primal importance to have blood tests conducted at regular intervals to steer clear of these life-threatening conditions.