Hypothyroidism: 10 Things to Know

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Hypothyroidism is a condition that occurs when the thyroid — your master gland of metabolism — is unable to produce enough thyroid hormone to meet your body’s needs. Hypothyroidism can result from a damaged, diseased, or surgically-removed thyroid gland. Without enough thyroid hormone, many of your body’s most important functions can slow down. Here are 10 key things to know about hypothyroidism.


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What causes hypothyroidism?

There are several common causes of hypothyroidism, including:

  • Autoimmune Hashimoto's disease
  • Surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid
  • Radioactive iodine (RAI) to ablate the thyroid
  • Iodine deficiency or excess
  • Certain medications


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What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism can develop slowly, so symptoms aren't always visible. But the common symptoms of an underactive thyroid include fatigue, weight gain, depression, a puffy face, swelling in the hands and feet, constipation, cold intolerance, joint and muscle pain, dry skin, hair loss, heavy or irregular menstrual periods, infertility, and heart irregularities.


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Who's at risk for hypothyroidism?

Women are much more likely than men to develop hypothyroidism. An underactive thyroid is common in both women and men over 60. Other risk factors for hypothyroidism include a personal or family history of thyroid or autoimmune disease, a recent pregnancy, radiation exposure, cigarette smoking, and use of certain medications, such as lithium.


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Hypothyroidism and pregnancy

Hypothyroidism can appear during pregnancy, and if untreated, can increase the risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, and preeclampsia — a dangerous rise in blood pressure during late pregnancy. Women who are hypothyroid and who want to get pregnant should also work with their doctors before conception to develop a treatment plan.


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How is hypothyroidism diagnosed?

Hypothyroidism can appear during pregnancy, and if untreated, can increase the risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, and preeclampsia — a dangerous rise in blood pressure during late pregnancy. Women who are hypothyroid and who want to get pregnant should also work with their doctors before conception to develop a treatment plan.


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How is hypothyroidism treated?

Hypothyroidism is treated with prescription thyroid hormone replacement drugs, including synthetic thyroxine, known as levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levoxyl, Tirosint), and natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) drugs like Nature-throid and Armour Thyroid.


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What are the complications from hypothyroidism?

When undiagnosed, untreated, or improperly treated, hypothyroidism can lead to a variety of health complications, including infertility, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and depression.


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Who should treat your hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed and treated by most healthcare providers, including M.D.s, osteopathic physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician’s assistants. For more complicated thyroid conditions, some patients consult with endocrinologists — specialists in thyroid disease and the endocrine system.


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What should you eat when hypothyroid?

There is no particular diet recommended for hypothyroidism, but you may want to minimize your exposure to raw goitrogenic foods (like cruciferous vegetables). Also, avoid overdoing it with soy foods, which can slow down your thyroid. Another tip: Be careful about drinking coffee and milk close to taking thyroid hormone replacement drugs because they can impair absorption and make your treatment less effective.


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Can hypothyroidism be prevented?

In some cases, you can prevent hypothyroidism. Some ways to prevent your thyroid from becoming underactive include avoiding overconsumption of soy and goitrogenic foods, stopping smoking, protecting yourself against radiation, and careful management of hyperthyroidism treatment.