When the body does not produce enough thyroid hormones, it is a medical condition known as hypothyroidism. Currently, it is estimated that more than 20 million Americans suffer from this common problem. The thyroid makes triiodothyronine and thyroxine, also known as T3 and T4. This butterfly shaped gland is in the lower portion of the front side of the neck. It secretes vital hormones that are essential for both growth and metabolism. Hypothyroidism is most often a problem in women rather than men.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of a thyroid issue. It is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own tissues. Having a thyroid gland removed, or having an iodine deficiency, can also cause hypothyroidism. Those who use radiation therapy for cancer, or other medications, can also have problems with underactive thyroid. During pregnancy, it is not uncommon for a woman to have a problem with their thyroid.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is most often seen in middle-aged or older women. However, it can also be found in babies or infants too. Some babies have an improperly functioning thyroid gland while some have none at all. Because the symptoms may appear slowly over a period of time, it is often hard to diagnose. Diagnosing thyroid issues in children and teenagers can be difficult. Doctors look for signs of delayed puberty, mental development issues, or poor growth. An infant with thyroid trouble will have problems feeding, and they will not hit their growth marks. Doctors first must eliminate other possible issues that may cause similar symptoms like:
- Joint discomfort, stiffness, or inflammation
- General lethargy or deficiency in energy
- Intolerance to cold or heat
- Weight gain
- Changes in appetite
- Higher than usual cholesterol levels
- Anomalies with cardiac rhythms
- Hair loss or thinning
- Changes in bowel habits
The treatment for hypothyroidism involves taking synthetic thyroid hormones. The most commonly used medications are Levothroid and Synthroid. While taking a pill may seem easy, it is not always so simple to manage this condition. Thyroid problems can cause other troublesome medical problems. For instance, a thyroid that is not functioning properly can contribute to diabetes and high blood pressure. These conditions must also be managed.
The lack of thyroid hormones can cause cholesterol levels to be elevated, too. After beginning a regimen of synthetic hormones, the levels should become stable after a few weeks of treatment. Additionally, patients should feel less tired and have more energy. The dosage of hormones often must be adjusted a couple times to find the proper amount. Thyroid levels must be checked, at least once per year, to ensure the patient is taking the correct dosage.
Precautions During Treatment
Even if the symptoms are gone, patients should continue to take their medication. It is important not to skip any doses. Symptoms will return when the medication is not at a consistent level in the body. Having any adverse reactions from the medication is rare. However, some food and herbal supplements can interact with this medication. The most common problems are found with iron supplements and multivitamins that contain iron.
There are millions of people in this country that have hypothyroidism and do not realize they have it. Typically, an ear, nose and throat doctor can do an examination, and they can make the diagnosis. Thankfully, this condition responds well to treatment, especially when it is caught early on. Severe hypothyroidism can cause serious medical conditions that need prompt attention.