Hypothyroidism: 10 Things to Know

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What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a disorder that occurs when the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone to meet the body’s needs. Without enough thyroid hormone, many of the body’s functions slow down.

What causes hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism can be caused by several factors, including Hashimoto's disease (chronic inflammation of the thyroid), some medications or, occasionally, too much or too little iodine in the diet.

What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism develops slowly so many people don’t notice symptoms of the disease. Some common symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, a puffy face, cold intolerance, joint and muscle pain, constipation, dry skin, thinning hair, decreased sweating, heavy or irregular menstrual periods, depression and a slowed heart rate.

Who's at risk for hypothyroidism?

Women are much more likely than men to develop hypothyroidism. The disease is also more common among people older than age 60. Other factors include whether you've had a thyroid problem before, have had surgery on your thyroid, have a family history of thyroid disease or have another autoimmune disease, such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.

Hypothyroidism and pregnancy

During pregnancy, hypothyroidism occurs in three to five of every 1,000 pregnancies and is usually caused by Hashimoto's disease. Uncontrolled hypothyroidism raises the chance of miscarriage, preterm delivery and preeclampsia, a dangerous rise in blood pressure during late pregnancy.

How is hypothyroidism diagnosed?

The ultrasensitive TSH test is usually the first test a health care provider performs. This test detects even tiny amounts of TSH in the blood and is the most accurate measure of thyroid activity. Generally, a TSH reading above normal means a person has hypothyroidism and a reading below normal means a person has hyperthyroidism.

How is hypothyroidism treated?

Health care providers treat hypothyroidism with synthetic thyroxine, a medication that is identical to the hormone T4\. The exact dose will depend on the patient’s age and weight, the severity of the hypothyroidism, the presence of other health problems, and whether the person is taking other drugs that might interfere with how well the body uses thyroid hormone. 

What are the complications from hypothyroidism?

Left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to devastating health complications. These include heart problems, mental health issues, infertility, birth defects, and more.

At the doctor's office

Once you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, it’s important to prepare and ask the right questions. Be sure to take note of any symptoms you have been experiencing as well as any medications you take as they may affect your condition.

Alternative treatments

Increasing certain amounts of foods may help with your management of hypothyroidism as well as avoiding certain foods that can exacerbate the condition such as processed foods or soy. While medical treatment is recommended, you can be proactive by eating healthy and exercising.