Definition

Hypothyroidism happens when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. It produces hormones that control metabolism. The most common form is Hashimoto's thyroiditis.

Thyroid Gland

thyroid gland male
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Causes

Hashimoto's thyroiditis occurs when:

  • Immune system produces antibodies that attack cells of the thyroid gland, causing chronic thyroid swelling and loss of function
  • Other causes:
    • Idiopathic thyroid atrophy—destruction of thyroid tissue for unknown reasons
    • Iodine deficiency—when a thyroid gland needs iodine to produce thyroid hormone (rare in the US)
    • Subacute thyroiditis—following a viral upper respiratory tract infection
    • Medical treatments— radiation to the head and neck or surgical removal of part of the thyroid gland (called subtotal thyroidectomy )
    • Medications (eg, lithium , iodine, alpha-interferons, thiourea, amiodarone , interleukins)
    • Certain diseases (eg, cancer or infection)
    • Pituitary adenoma —benign tumor of the pituitary gland

Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of developing hypothyroidism:

Risk factors include:

Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors.

Symptoms

Years may pass before you notice symptoms.

Symptoms include:

Symptoms of severe or prolonged cases include:

  • Stupor or coma
  • Slow heart rate
  • Depressed breathing
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Hoarseness

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical and family history, and perform a physical exam. To confirm the diagnosis, blood tests will be done, which include:

  • Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)
  • Free T4 and free T3
  • Antibodies that attack the thyroid gland

Treatment

In the early stages of Hashimoto's thyroiditis, there is no specific treatment. But, in most cases, you will end up developing hypothyroidism. Treatment includes:

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting hypothyroidism, take the following steps: