Hypothyroidism is commonly referred to as underactive thyroid, and is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. It is much more common in women than men; approximately one in every eight women will develop a thyroid condition in her lifetime. It is estimated that more than 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid condition and up to 60 percent of those with a condition are unaware.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the front your neck and is primarily responsible for regulating metabolism. This gland produces two hormones: T3 and T4; T3 is considered the more active form and is made from T4. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is responsible for regulating T3 and T4 production and is made by the pituitary gland, found in the brain. The thyroid hormones also affect other critical body functions including energy level, heart rate, brain development, body temperature, skin dryness, weight and menstrual cycles. As you might imagine, a thyroid condition can manifest itself in numerous ways.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary from person to person depending on the severity of the condition. Symptoms may include – fatigue, weight gain, hair loss/thinning hair, cold intolerance, joint/muscle pain, constipation, dry skin and depression. Typically, symptoms develop over the course of a couple years and may become more obvious as time progresses. If your thyroid condition goes untreated, it can lead to an enlarged thyroid (aka goiter), forgetfulness or depression.
Hypothyroidism is caused primarily by Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease which results in chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland. Other causes include congenital hypothyroidism, surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid, radiation on the thyroid and some medications (i.e. lithium). Women over age 60, people with autoimmune diseases, and those who have received radiation to the upper chest or neck are also at an increased your risk of hypothyroidism.
Treatment for hypothyroidism typically involves the use of a synthetic thyroid hormone via oral medication. Daily use of this medication can help establish and restore normal hormone levels and reverse the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Be sure to disclose any medications and supplements that you take to your physician to ensure you don’t experience any interactions.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, especially exhaustion, dry skin, constipation, without reason, see your physician. Diagnosis of a thyroid condition is relatively easy and the various available treatment options are safe and effective. If you are already receiving care for a thyroid condition, be sure to adhere to the protocol set by your physician, especially the follow up visits to test your thyroid function.