Hypothyroidism is a disorder where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones are responsible for metabolism (the way your body breaks down food to use it for energy).
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
• Pale complexion
• Joint or muscular pain
• Thin hair
• Brittle fingernails
• Intolerance of cold temperatures
• In women, heavy menstrual periods
If the disorder is more severe and has not been treated it can also slow down your speech, affect your ability to taste and smell, thin your eyebrows and make your face, hands and feet swollen.
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
The most common cause is inflammation of the thyroid gland. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common example of this type of inflammation. It occurs when the immune system inappropriately attacks the thyroid gland.
Severe iodine deficiency can also cause hypothyrodism. The thyroid needs iodine to make thyroid hormones so if you’re lacking in it, the thyroid can’t make the required amount.
Other causes are radiotherapy (radiation fired at the neck can damage the thyroid gland) and radiation to the brain. Radioactive iodine or surgery used to treat hyperthyroidism may induce hypothyroidism. Certain medications used to treat depression, psychosis, or heart disease may also result in hypothyroidism.
Sometimes, hypothyroidism is caused by a virus. If this is the case, it may be temporary and you may not need further treatment. In children, hypothyroidism may be caused by a congenital defect, although this is very rare and occurs in only one in 4,000 children.
Hypothyroidism can also be caused by pregnancy.
Your doctor will perform a physical examination to see if your thyroid gland is smaller than average. Occasionally it may be larger. He will also look at your complexion and the condition of your hair and nails and see if you have any swelling.
He will take blood to check for levels of T3 and T4 hormones and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH is produced by your brain and tells your thyroid to produce T3 and T4.
If your thyroid disease isn’t caused by a virus or the result of pregnancy, then you will need hormone replacement treatment for the rest of your life to provide you with the hormones your thyroid should have been producing, so you should carry on taking them even after you feel better.
According to as study in BBC Health News, hypothyroidism occurs in up to 8 percent of the population but is often undiagnosed as people mistake it for depression or signs of aging.
However, it can have serious side effects if left untreated, including myxedema coma that occurs because of low levels of hormones. This may require intensive care and can result in death.
Hypothyroidism, PudMed Health. Web. 16 January 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001393/
Hypothyroidism, Medicine Net. Web. 16 January 2012. http://www.medicinenet.com/hypothyroidism/page2.htm
100,000 older people missing thyroid treatment – study, BBC Health News, 24th January 2011.
Hypothyroidism. Emedicine health. Web. 16 January 2012.
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting.
Reviewed January 18, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith