Hypothyroidism is a common condition that occurs when an underactive thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones to properly manage many important functions of the body. The thyroid is the gland in the front of the neck that controls energy use and metabolic functions. If the thyroid gland is not active enough, it does not make enough thyroid hormone to meet the body's needs and causes certain functions of the body to slow down. As a result, functions such as heart rate, brain function and the rate that the body converts food into energy, all slow down. Women over the age of age of 60 are at the highest risk for developing hypothyroidism. Left untreated, this condition may cause a variety of health complications including obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease
Causes of Hypothyroidism
An autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto's disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism and involves the immune system attacking the thyroid gland, which can affect its ability to produce hormones. Hypothyroidism can also be caused by several different factors that affect the two main hormones of the thyroid gland; thyroxine and triiodothyronine. Improper functioning of the thyroid gland may also be caused by:
- Other autoimmune diseases
- Radiation therapy
- Thyroid surgery
- Iodine deficiency
- Previous treatment for thyroid problems
Some women may develop hypothyroidism during or after pregnancy. This is often the result of antibodies that are produced that affect their thyroid gland.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
The symptoms of hypothyroidism may develop slowly overtime. Symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the condition, and may include:
- Sensitivity to cold
- Puffy face
- Weight gain
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Painful joints
- Heavy and irregular menstrual bleeding
Hypothyroidism can also cause high cholesterol, so people with high cholesterol should be tested for hypothyroidism.
Diagnosis of Hypothyroidism
If hypothyroidism is suspected, the doctor will perform a thorough physical examination as well as several blood tests to measure the levels of thyroid hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormones in the blood. These tests may include:
- TSH test
- Thyroid function test
- Antibody test
TSH tests also play an important role in managing hypothyroidism. They are often used to determine the correct dosage of medication, both initially and over time.
Treatment of Hypothyroidism
Medication that contains synthetic thyroid hormones is the preferred method of treatment for controlling hypothyroidism. The dosage of medication will vary based on the severity of the thyroid problem, the patient's age, weight, and any other existing health problems. Symptoms usually improve within a few weeks after beginning treatment. A normal, healthy thyroid and metabolic state can be restored with thyroid medication, however, most patients will have to take medication for the rest of their lives.
An increase in hormone production can negatively affect the body's reaction to other medication, so it is important to see a doctor regularly while undergoing treatment for hypothyroidism. Most people experience effective results with no side effects or complications from hormone medication.