Hypothyroidism Symptoms, Signs, & Treatment
If you are effected by hypothyroidism, it can greatly change how you live out your day-to-day life. Whether it be physical changes in your appearance or increased fatigue, hypothyroidism can be diminishing your quality of life, but there are ways to fix it.
Struggling to lose weight, find energy, remember names, and keep warm? Is hair thinning and bowels changing? An underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism, might be the root of the cause.
Hypothyroidism is most common in middle-age and elderly women. However, hypothyroidism can affect anyone, including men, teenagers, and children.
Luckily, the symptoms and signs of hypothyroidism can be treatable for all. Not only does effective hypothyroidism treatment reduce the risks of complications, too, but may even be lifesaving.
Learn more on detecting hypothyroidism and how it is diagnosed and treated.
What Is Hypothyroidism and What Are the Symptoms?
Hypo (meaning "low") thyroid (a hormone-producing gland in the neck) can be very serious and life-threatening if left unmanaged.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the neck. It is responsible for producing thyroid hormones that control metabolism and regulate body processes.
In short, metabolism is the total physiological processes in which the body transforms calories from food into usable energy. This energy is required to carry out vital processes, including circulating oxygenated blood and growing and repairing cells each second.
Specific to hypothyroidism, also known as underactive thyroid disease, the thyroid gland does not produce sufficient thyroid hormones. Eventually, metabolism slows down. Weight gain is the most well-known consequence of slower metabolism.
In addition to weight gain, a slowed down metabolism can compromise a number of body functions. This can lead to the following common hypothyroidism symptoms and signs:
• Increased sensitivity to cold environments
• Dry skin
• Thinning hair
• Facial puffiness
• Muscle weakness
• High cholesterol levels
• Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
• Pain, stiffness or swelling in the joints
• Heavier than normal or Irregular menstrual periods in women
• Slower heart rate
• Depression and changes in mood
• Impaired memory
• Enlarged thyroid gland, which is medically known as a goiter
Knowing these signs of hypothyroidism is important, as prompt early detection and initiate proper treatment. What’s more, up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.
So if you or someone you care about are having these sorts of symptoms, make an appointment with a doctor. Here is a quick checklist of what you can do before the appointment for effective screening:
• Ask if there is anything particular you need to do in advance or bring to the appointment
• Write down all symptoms you are experiencing, when they started, and their severity
• Offer a thorough medical history, including of current conditions and a family history
• Bring a list of all medications and supplements you are taking
• Prepare a list of questions, including those related to diagnosing and treating hypothyroidism
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
There are different types of hypothyroidism, and each one arises under varying circumstances in the body.
Hashimoto’s disease, also recognized as chronic lymphocytic and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It is an autoimmune disease in which the patient’s own immune systems attacks and damages its own thyroid gland. The unresolved and constant damage of the thyroid gland causes hypothyroidism.
But not all cases are caused by Hashimoto’s disease. Other causes of hypothyroidism may include:
• Thyroid cancer treatments, including radiation, and surgeries
• A genetic disease, including a birth defect that keeps the thyroid gland from developing properly
• Pregnancy can lead to the development of hypothyroidism for the same reason as Hashimoto's thyroid disease
• Disorders of the pituitary gland, such as a tumor
• Certain medications, such as amiodarone, lithium, interferon alpha, interleukin-2, or prior chemotherapy
• Nutrient deficiencies and toxicities, including those linked to iodine and vitamin D
The two main risk factors of hypothyroidism are age and sex according to Endocrine Web. The chances of being hypothyroid increase with age, and they are greater if female. More specifically, hypothyroidism occurs primarily in women older than 50.
Other risk factors include family histories of thyroid disease or any autoimmune disease. Having type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or other autoimmune disorders also increases the risk.
Diagnosing hypothyroidism is based on a thorough medical exam and evaluation. This including experienced symptoms and potential risk factors.
A definitive diagnosis includes the results of blood tests. These measure the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and sometimes the level of the thyroid hormone thyroxine.
Normal and Abnormal TSH Ranges:
• A TSH reference range is 0.4 mU/L to 4.0 mU/L.
• If TSH measures greater 4.0 mU/L, a second test (T4) is performed to verify the results. TSH greater than 4.0/mU/L with a low T4 level indicates hypothyroidism.
• If TSH > 4.0 mU/L and T4 level is normal, serum anti-thyroid peroxidase (anti-TPO) antibodies may be tested. When these antibodies are present, it may indicate an autoimmune thyroid disorder, which is a risk factor for developing hypothyroidism. If these antibodies are present, your doctor will most likely test TSH at least once per year.
High TSH Level = Low Thyroid Function
Thyroid stimulating hormone stimulates the thyroid gland to produce plenty of thyroid hormone. When the body is producing lots of TSH, it is essentially signaling the thyroid gland to produce more. This is because there is not enough thyroid hormone available for cells to use.
TSH can essentially be thought of as the body's way of pressing the gas pedal. It asks the thyroid gland to “go faster” with producing thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism happens when the body is pressing the gas pedal. The thyroid hormone you need is not being created in the amounts required by the body for normal energy production.
Thyroid hormone is an energy-producing hormone because it signals the mitochondria within our cells to produce energy. Mitochondria are small capsules within body cells. They are responsible for the all-important job of producing energy molecules that can be used by cells and muscles.
Simple tasks can cause fatigue with hypothyroidism, including grocery shopping or walking the dog. This is because muscle cells are not able to produce enough energy to sustain even moderate activity.
However, these consequences can be combatted through careful treatment of hypothyroidism.
A clinical diagnosis of hypothyroidism poses the need for thyroid hormone replacement therapy. The standard treatment involves daily use of the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine (Levo-T, Synthroid, others). This medication helps to restore thyroid hormone levels and reverse the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Complying to medication is imperative to restore thyroid function. Routine doctor visits also help indicate current thyroid status and if any adjustments in medication are needed. This is important to lower the risks of complications of hypothyroidism, including:
• A goiter, which occurs when the body exerts itself to produce more thyroid hormone
• Heart problems, including increased cholesterol and fluid buildup around the heart
• Infertility, particularly related to impacted ovulation in women
• Mental health issues, as even mild hypothyroidism can cause mild forms of depression
• Myxedema, the medical term for extreme hypothyroidism, which can lead to coma
• Stunted growth, particularly in children
Medication compliance and routine doctor visits is the core of hypothyroidism treatment. But one can also benefit from making healthier lifestyle choices, including eating more nutrient-dense foods and exercising regularly.
Adequate water intake, sufficient sleep, and stress management can also improve hormone function and overall health. Also seek medical advice regarding supplementation and other dietary considerations.