Hypothyroidism is the term given to a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce enough of key hormones that keep your metabolism running properly. This can lead to a long (and relatively diverse) list of distressing symptoms, including obesity, joint pain, infertility, and heart disease.
A Functioning Thyroid
The thyroid is a bow-tie shaped gland with two wings on each side of your neck, connected by a narrower band of tissue that crosses you’re the base of your neck between the lower neck and your collarbone. If you put the crux of your thumb directly under your chin, the shadow of your hand would cover the area where your thyroid sits.
A functioning thyroid produces three hormones, including thyroxine and triiodothyronine – considered the thyroid hormones – and calcitonin. These regulate your metabolic rate, which is the rate of energy used by the body.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism are cumulative, which is to say they build up over time. As such, the symptoms are not felt right away, even as your thyroid is not functioning properly. Over time, the symptoms begin to assert themselves more and more.
The symptoms, meanwhile, are very diverse. They include
- Sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Hoarse voice
- High cholesterol
- Joint pain
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Cognitive dysfunction related to memory loss
Infant and Childhood Onset
Hypothyroidism most often strikes middle-aged women; however, it is not limited to any particular age or gender. Infants born without a thyroid gland of with one that is not functioning well can come down with hypothyroidism. If not treated early, this can lead to severe problems, including serious mental impairment.
Infant symptoms include crying with a hoarse voice, yellowing skin, difficulty breathing and a swollen, often protruding tongue, poor muscle tone, constipation, and slow growth.
Similar symptoms occur during childhood or teenage onset cases of hypothyroidism. Excessive tiredness can also be a symptom of early-onset hypothyroidism.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
There are many possible causes of a malfunctioning thyroid. It is possible to be born without a thyroid gland, which, of course, predetermines infant onset of hypothyroidism. Other causes include:
- Reactions to medication or surgery
- Responses to the treatment of hyperthyroidism
- Pregnancy onset
- An autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (this is the most common cause of hypothyroidism)
- Iodine deficiency
- Pituitary gland disorders
Tests and Diagnosis
There are tests that can diagnose hypothyroidism correctly and there are treatments available to manage the condition. The primary diagnostic tool involves blood tests to measure the amount of thyroxine or TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland).
Once a course of treatment is determined, doctors will monitor the level of these hormones in your blood to make adjustments to treatments when necessary.
Hormone therapy is the standard treatment for hypothyroidism. Most often, the synthetic hormone levothyroxine or a variation of this oral medication is taken on a daily basis. Doctors and patients will then monitor various indicators, such as appetite, energy level, heart palpitations, general well being, signs of weakness and other indicators in order to adjust the dose to suit recovery and return to health.