OK, maybe my title is a little over done, but it did get your attention – didn’t it? Problems with the thyroid are becoming more common. Is it the environment? What we are eating? Are we simply becoming unhealthier? We truly are not sure, could be a little bit of all of the above. So, what is hypothyroidism? What are the signs and symptoms? How is it treated? Keep reading, and I will fill you in.
What is Hypothyroidism?
The term hypo means “under”. Hypothyroidism is basically an under functioning of the thyroid. In this state, the thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormone. If you remember from my last blog, the hormones that are produced in the thyroid are essential for life and have many effects on body metabolism, growth and development.
Signs and Symptoms of Hypothyroidism:
The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism vary widely, depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency. But in general, any problems you do have tend to develop slowly, often over a number of years.
At first, you may barely notice the symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as fatigue and sluggishness, or you may simply attribute them to getting older. But as your metabolism continues to slow, you may develop more obvious signs and symptoms. Hypothyroidism signs and symptom may include:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Pale, dry skin
- A puffy face
- Hoarse voice
- An elevated blood cholesterol level
- Unexplained weight gain
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
- Muscle weakness
- Heavier than normal menstrual periods
- Brittle fingernails and hair
Basically, the reason for many of these symptoms is that lacking this hormone slows your body down. So, you are fatigued and may have slow heart rate. Your GI tract slows, causing constipation. Slow metabolism can lead to weight gain and depression. Is it making sense? If the body slows than your symptoms will be related to that slowing.
Who Is At Risk?
Anyone can develop hypothyroidism, but it is more common if you:
- Are a woman older than age 50
- Have an autoimmune disease
- Have a close relative, such as a parent or grandparent, with an autoimmune disease or thyroid disease
- Have been treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications
- Received radiation to your neck or upper chest
- Have had thyroid surgery (partial thyroidectomy)
How Is Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of hypothyroidism is based on your symptoms and the results of blood tests that measure the level of TSH and sometimes the level of the thyroid hormone, thyroxine. A low level of thyroxine and high level of TSH indicate an underactive thyroid. That’s because your pituitary produces more TSH in an effort to stimulate your thyroid gland into producing more thyroid hormone.
After a physical examination, it may also be helpful to have a thyroid ultrasound. The thyroid ultrasound will show any changes that could be related to cyst, inflammation or cancer. Depending on the outcome of that test, a thyroid biopsy may be recommended. Please know: this is usually not needed, but could be recommended.
How Is Hypothyroidism Treated?
Standard treatment for hypothyroidism involves daily use of the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine (Levothroid, Synthroid, others). This oral medication restores adequate hormone levels, shifting your body back into normal gear.
One to two weeks after starting treatment, you’ll notice that you’re feeling less fatigued. The medication also gradually lowers cholesterol levels elevated by the disease and may reverse any weight gain. Treatment with levothyroxine is usually lifelong, but because the dosage you need may change, your doctor is likely to check your TSH level every year.
It is important when treating the thyroid that your TSH doesn’t get too high or too low – but somewhere between 1-3. We will be talking about hyperthyroidism soon – that can actually be a side-effect of too much medication for hypothyroidism. But, we will discuss the risks associated with an overactive thyroid. You know the old adage, “too much of a good thing” – that is a great way to describe an overactive thyroid.
So, stay tuned!!
Have you been diagnosed with hypothyroidism? What is your experience? I would love to hear from you, so leave me a comment!!