Hypothyroidism Basics

Endocrine Disorders, Featured Article, Thyroid Problems
on January 26, 2012

Are you feeling sluggish, tired and just not yourself? Hypothyroidism could be to blame. The condition is very common and treatable, but left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to more dangerous conditions. Get the hypothyroidism basics and get on the path to wellness.

What is hypothyroidism? Hypothyroidism is a disorder of the thyroid gland. The thyroid is located in the neck. It produces hormones that regulate many body functions and processes. In hypothyroidism, the gland is malfunctioning and not producing enough hormone.

What causes hypothyroidism? Determining the cause of hypothyroidism starts with a trip to your doctor. If diagnosed with hypothyroidism, discuss your concerns and develop a plan of attack to manage your condition. Since everyone is different, there can be different causes of hypothyroidism. The Mayo Clinic cites several typical triggers:

  • Autoimmune disease — This is known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Your body’s immune system attacks the thyroid tissue, reducing its ability to produce hormone.
  • Radiation therapy — Head and neck radiation therapy can decrease the thyroid’s ability to release hormones.
  • Certain medications — Some medicines, such as lithium, can affect your thyroid output of hormone.
  • Hyperthyroid treatment — This can result in permanent hypothyroidism.
  • Thyroid surgery — In this instance, even partial removal of the thyroid gland can lessen or stop hormone production.
  • Pituitary disorder — The pituitary works with the thyroid gland to regulate hormones. Rarely, the pituitary is unable to produce enough hormones to stimulate the thyroid, resulting in hypothyroidism.
  • Genetic propensity — Some people are born without a thyroid or with a defective thyroid.
  • Iodine deficiency — Iodine is crucial to the production of thyroid hormones. A deficiency in the diet can lead to hypothyroidism.
  • Pregnancy — Because the body produces antibodies to its thyroid gland, pregnancy may lead to hypothyroidism in some women.

Who gets hypothyroidism? Anyone is capable of developing an underactive thyroid. Women are more prone to hypothyroidism than men. People older than 50 (especially women) are more likely to develop hypothyroidism.

What are the common symptoms of hypothyroidism? There are many symptoms of hypothyroidism. They may be severe to very mild and unnoticeable. Fatigue and sluggishness is the most common symptom, and it is often overlooked. Additional signs include:

  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Pale skin
  • Dry skin
  • A puffy face
  • Elevated blood cholesterol
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle tenderness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Heavy menstruation
  • Brittle fingernails and hair