Know the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Insufficient amounts of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream cause metabolism disorders in the body. The condition is known as hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid disease.

Hypothyroidism is relatively common, affecting individuals of all ages and races; however, women are more inclined to develop hypothyroidism than are men. In fact, according to Cleveland Clinic experts, the disease affects as many as 20% of women over the age of 50. In its early stages, hypothyroidism may not cause noticeable symptoms. But is it’s left untreated, a number of health problems can result, including joint pain, obesity, heart disease and even infertility.

The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland located just below the Adam’s apple in the front of the neck. The hormones it produces, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), exert a critical influence on the body’s health, particularly on the body’s metabolism. These hormones also affect control of the body’s vital functions, such as heart rate and body temperature. Individuals with an increased likelihood of developing hypothyroidism include those of the female gender, over the age of 60, those with a family history of thyroid disease, people with autoimmune disease, who have had thyroid surgery, have been pregnant or have recently delivered a baby, have received radiation to the neck or upper chest or have been treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism may develop slowly and over a significant period of time. These symptoms may include fatigue, intolerance to cold, weight gain, numbness and tingling in the hands, constipation, decreased sexual interest, dry or coarse skin and hair, frequent, heavy menstrual periods, and forgetfulness.

Hypothyroidism most commonly results from autoimmune disease, in which the body’s immune system produces antibodies that attack the body’s own tissues. These antibodies may affect the thyroid’s gland ability to produce hormones at adequate levels.

Thyroid surgery, possibly in response to disease, in which all or a large portion of the gland is removed, can reduce or stop hormone production. In that case, a synthetic version of the hormone is required. Additionally, radiation used to treat cancers of the head or neck can affect the thyroid gland and its ability to produce hormones. Likewise, some medications can contribute to hypothyroidism. For example, lithium, which is used in the treatment of psychiatric disorders, can affect hormone production.

Your provider bases a diagnosis of hypothyroidism on your symptoms and the results of blood tests that measure the level of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) and sometimes the level of thyroxine. A low level of thyroxine and high level of TSH indicate an underactive thyroid. Diagnosis is possible earlier in the disease course than in the past. Based on blood test results, a diagnosis is possible even before you experience symptoms.

Treatment for hypothyroidism typically involves daily use of levothyroxine, a synthetic thyroid hormone. Designed to return the hormone to sufficient levels, the oral medication reverses the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Daily levothyroxine is a regimen that is implemented for the rest of your life. Shortly after beginning to take the medication, you will likely feel better. And over time the medication reduces your body’s cholesterol levels and may reduce weight gain brought on by the disease.

If you are experiencing symptoms similar to those described above, be sure to consult your provider and take the steps necessary to arrive at a diagnosis. Once your provider has properly identified the disease, he or she will be able to determine the best course of treatment.

Author
Ithaca Primary Care

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