What is it?

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland is under active. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck. It produces hormones that affect all aspect of your metabolism, from how fast your heart beats to how quickly you burn calories. Your thyroid produces two main hormones, T-4 and T-3. The rate at which these hormones are released is dependent on another gland, the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland, located at the base of your brain, releases a hormone known as TSH which acts on the thyroid to release T-3 and T-4. When your thyroid doesn't produce enough of these hormones, a condition known as hypothyroidism occurs.

What causes it?

In the U.S., the most common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Normally, your immune system produces antibodies that protect against foreign substances, bacteria, and viruses. In autoimmune disorders, like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, your immune system produces antibodies that attack your own tissue. In this case, antibodies attack and destroy your own thyroid tissue.

Other common causes for hypothyroidism include treatment for hyperthyroidism, radiation therapy, thyroid surgery, and even certain medications, like lithium. Less common causes include a congenital disease, pituitary disorders, pregnancy, and iodine deficiency.

Who gets it?

People of any age can develop hypothyroidism but women, especially older than 50 are most commonly affected. The risk of developing the disorder also increases with age. Other risk factors include: a close relative with an autoimmune disease, previous treatment for hyperthyroidism, radiation therapy to your neck or upper chest, or previous thyroid surgery.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism vary greatly and tend to develop very slowly. Early in the course of the disorder, fatigue or sluggishness may be the first symptoms noticed and simply attributed to getting older. But as your metabolism continues to slow, you may develop other symptoms like:
Advanced hypothyroidism, known as myxedema, is a rare but potentially life-threatening condition. Symptoms include low blood pressure, decreased breathing, decreased body temperature, unresponsiveness, and even coma.
Although hypothyroidism most often affects middle-aged and older women, anyone can develop the condition, from infants to teenagers. Most states now require newborn thyroid screening. Children and teenagers who develop hypothyroidism will have similar symptoms as adults but may also experience poor growth, delayed development of permanent teeth, delayed puberty, and poor mental development.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis of hypothyroidism is based on your symptoms as well as a simple blood test for amounts of thyroid hormone in your blood. TSH levels and sometimes T-4 levels will be measured. A low level of T-4 and a high level of TSH indicate an underactive thyroid. That’s because your pituitary gland is producing too much TSH in an effort to cause your thyroid gland to produce more T-4.

How is it treated?

The standard treatment for hypothyroidism is with thyroid hormone. This oral medication will restore hormone levels and shift your metabolism back to normal. Thyroid hormone is relatively inexpensive and causes virtually no side effects. Talk to your doctor if you eat large amounts of soy products, are on a high-fiber diet, or take any other medications as these could affect the absorption of the medication.

Take Home Message

Hypothyroidism is a common disease, and although it does affect both sexes, it is seen more commonly in women. If you have some of the above stated symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, muscle aches, joint pain, skin and/or hair changesr if you have a family history of hypothyroidism, please come into MY DR NOW or your local Primary Care doctors office for further evaluation and treatment.
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