Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain important hormones.
Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland situated at the base of the front of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. Hormones produced by the thyroid gland (triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)) have an enormous impact on your health, affecting all aspects of your metabolism. They maintain the rate at which your body uses fats and carbohydrates, help control your body temperature, influence your heart rate, and help regulate the production of proteins.
Women, especially those older than age 60, are more likely to have hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism upsets the normal balance of chemical reactions in your body. It hardly causes symptoms in the early stages, but over time, untreated hypothyroidism can cause a number of health problems, such as obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
When your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones, the balance of chemical reactions in your body can be upset. There can be a number of causes, including autoimmune disease, treatment for hyperthyroidism, radiation therapy, thyroid surgery and certain medications.
Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid gland fails to produce enough hormones. Hypothyroidism may be due to a number of factors, including:
- Autoimmune disease: Autoimmune disorders occur when your immune system produces antibodies that attack your own tissues.
- Treatment for hyperthyroidism: People who produce too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) are often treated to reduce and normalize their thyroid function. However, in some cases, treatment of hyperthyroidism can result in permanent hypothyroidism.
- Thyroid surgery: thyroid surgery can can diminish or halt hormone production.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation used to treat cancers of the head and neck can affect your thyroid gland and may lead to hypothyroidism.
- Medications: A number of medications can contribute to hypothyroidism. If you’re taking medication, ask your doctor about its effect on your thyroid gland.
- Iodine deficiency: The trace mineral iodine found primarily in table salt and sea food, is essential for the production of thyroid hormones. Lack of iodine in the system can lead to hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism vary, depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency. But in general, any problems you have tend to develop slowly over a number of years.
At first, you may barely notice the symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as fatigue and weight gain, or you may simply attribute them to getting older. Hypothyroidism signs and symptom may include:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
- Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
When hypothyroidism isn’t treated, signs and symptoms can gradually become more severe. Constant stimulation of your thyroid gland to release more hormones may lead to an enlarged thyroid (goiter). In addition, you may become more forgetful, your thought processes may slow, or you may feel depressed.
Treatment of Hypothyroidism
Standard treatment for hypothyroidism involves daily use of the synthetic thyroid hormone. This medication restores adequate hormone levels, reversing the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism.
The medication also gradually lowers cholesterol levels elevated by the disease and may reverse any weight gain.
Although most doctors recommend synthetic thyroxine, natural extracts containing thyroid hormone derived from the thyroid glands of pigs could also be helpful. Throid hormone derived from pigs contain both thyroxine and triiodothyronine. Synthetic thyroid medications contain thyroxine only, and the triiodothyronine your body needs is derived from the thyroxine.
Reference: Mayo Clinic