What is Hypothyroidism?

You can find your thyroid at the base of the front of your neck. Although it is tiny and nearly weightless, it has a vast effect on your health. Your metabolism is directly related to your thyroid gland.

Hormones released by the thyroid regulate heart rate to the rate which you burn calories at. As long as this is functioning properly and the appropriate quantity of hormones is released, you are fine. But when your thyroid manufactures less than the normal amount of hormones the chemical balance in your body may be unsettled. This is referred to as hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid disease.

Hypothyroidism is most common for women over 40. This illness progresses over time, thus symptoms may not be prominent until later years. Hypothyroidism should be treated (best in its early stages) or it may result in numerous health problems.

Thyroid treatment has progressed significantly over the past few years, so diagnosis may be made earlier, easier. The treatment is uncomplicated and successful using synthetic thyroid hormone. There are natural treatments also available.

Signs and Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism can vary in severity thus varying in symptoms. In most cases, hypothyroidism symptoms develops slowly, over many years.

In the first stages of hypothyroidism symptoms such as fatigue and slothfulness may be evident, but this may be due to age. Over time your metabolism slows and symptoms become more prominent. These more obvious symptoms include:

  • More sensitivity to cold.
  • Constipation.
  • Pale, parched skin.
  • An inflated face.
  • Croaky voice.
  • Elevated blood cholesterol levels.
  • Inexplicable weight gain. Many people attribute their weight gain to an underactive thyroid, but this is true only in a few cases. Hypothyroidism will rarely cause you to gain more than 10 to 20 pounds — the majority of which is liquid.
  • Muscle pains, tenderness and stiffness, particularly in your shoulders and hips.
  • Pain and stiffness in your joints and inflammation in your knees or the small joints in your hands and feet.
  • Muscle weakness, especially in your lower extremities.
  • Heavier than normal menstrual cycles.
  • Depression.

When hypothyroidism remains untreated it may progress in severity. When your thyroid is in hyperactive mode it may cause enlarged thyroid (goiter). Advanced hypothyroidism (myxedema) is rare, but life-threatening. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include tremendous intolerance to cold temperatures and extreme laziness and possibly loss of consciousness.

Hypothyroidism in Children and Teens

Hypothyroidism, though most common in women over 30, the illness may affect anyone. Primarily, babies born with no thyroid gland or with a gland functions improperly may have hardly any symptoms. Babies, if symptoms appear, may include:

  • Progressive yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice). This usually happens when a baby’s liver is unable to metabolize a molecule referred to as bilirubin. This molecule usually creates itself when the body reuses old or damaged red blood cells.
  • Loud breathing.
  • A big, obtrude tongue.

As hypothyroidism progresses in the child, they may experience difficulties feeding and may also grow and develop abnormally. Their symptoms may include:

  • Coarse, parched skin
  • Constipation
  • Deprived muscle tone
  • Extreme drowsiness

If this disease remains untreated the symptoms may progress into mental or physical retardation. Children have similar symptoms as adults but may also suffer:

  • Poor growth
  • Late development of permanent teeth
  • Late puberty
  • Trouble in school

Screening and Diagnosing Hyperthyroidism

Hypothyroidism is most common in elder women, thus screenings are recommended for women 60 and older. Pregnant women may also be prone to hypothyroidism and should also be checked.

If you are showing evident symptoms of hypothyroidism, or have previously experienced difficulty with hypothyroidism, your doctor will most likely test you.

Your symptoms and the outcome of blood tests measuring levels of TSH and thyroxine are the deciding factors of diagnosing underactive thyroid. When levels of TSH and thyroxine are low this means you have underactive thyroid. This is because pituitary gland is manufacturing more TSH to encourage your thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormone.

Formerly, doctors did not have the technology to tell if a patient has hypothyroidism until the symptoms are highly developed. Now, a TSH test is available which helps doctors find hypothyroidism much earlier – even before you undergo symptoms. TSH is the best screening test available, so your doctor may do an initial THS test followed by a thyroid test if necessary. THS tests may also give clues to your doctor as to what dosage of medication will be good for you to start on, and what changes in the dosage may need to be made over time.

THS tests also are helpful in the diagnosis of subclinical hypothyroidism, which most commonly has no noticeable signs or symptoms. This condition means you have regular blood levels of T-3 and T-4, but unusually high levels of TSH.

Treating Hypothyroidism

The typical treatment used for hypothyroidism is a taken orally on a daily basis. It is a synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine (Levothroid, Synthroid). This medication re-establishes the correct hormone levels, and brings your body’s internal conditions back to the norm.

The prescription will immediately increase your energy and you will feel less exhausted. Over time the treatment will lower your cholesterol levels back to normal and help you regain your usual weight (if you experienced weight gain as one of your symptoms.) The medication will usually have to be taken for the rest of your life, but your dosage is subject to change. TSH testing should be conducted annually.

To decide the proper dosage, your doctor will conduct TSH testing every few months. Eventually this will slow down to annual testing. When you are prescribed too much your bone loss is subject to acceleration by the hormone. This may increase your risk of contracting osteoporosis or worsen the disease if you already have it.

Coronary artery disease is also highly affected by the medication, thus your doctor may begin with a small dosage, and increase it over time. This gradual change allows your heart to adjust to the increase in metabolism.

There are no side effects to Levothyroxine when the correct dosage is used. If you decide to change brands inform your doctor to be sure that you are receiving the proper dosage. Do not miss doses or stop taking the drug if you feel your condition has improved, or the symptoms will slowly come again. The medication for hypothyroidism is a lifelong medication.

Certain types of foods or other medications and supplements may interfere with the abortion of levothyroxine. Make sure with your doctor that any other medications you are on will be safe to use with levothyroxine. When taking levothyroxine you may want to avoid the following:

  • Iron supplements
  • Cholestyramine (Questran)
  • Aluminum hydroxide, which is found in some antacids
  • Sodium polystyrene sulfonate (Kayexalate)
  • Sucralfate

Subclinical hypothyroidism may have different treatment; therefore if you are suffering from it, discuss treatment available with your physician. If you have a moderately low level of TSH, thyroid therapy will most likely be unbeneficial to you; also, the treatment is potentially harmful. In contrast, if you have a high TSH level, thyroid hormones can develop your cholesterol level, your energy level, and the ability your heart has to pump.