Hypothyroidism is also known as an underactive thyroid. It is an extremely common condition, especially in women, and far more common than its opposite condition hyperthyroidism.
The thyroid is a gland that controls hormone release. It affects the metabolism, the mood, and everything else within the body. An underactive thyroid can lead to symptoms such as weight gain, mood swings, and low energy levels.
Here’s a look at everything you need to know about hypothyroidism. We’ll help you understand more about the condition, the symptoms to look out for, and the treatment that will help your condition. We’ll also offer some help in tackling the symptoms while your treatments start working.
What Exactly Is Hypothyroidism
As mentioned, hypothyroidism is commonly known as an underactive thyroid. It’s a disease that affects the thyroid gland, so it can’t make enough of the thyroid hormones.
Located in the lower part of the front of the neck, the thyroid hormones are released into the bloodstream. They’re needed by almost all parts of your body, including your skin, brain, and heart. Not getting enough of the hormone can lead to various conditions, many of which are similar to other conditions. It can take your doctor a while to figure out your condition, as the symptoms mimic viral illnesses, low iron levels, and other nutrient deficiencies.
The thyroid hormone controls your metabolism. When the hormones aren’t being released, the body can’t control the energy release properly. The metabolism is forced to slow down and doesn’t use up as many calories throughout the day. Your heart beat and body temperature are all affected, making you feel sluggish and fatigued.
Why Do People Suffer from an Underactive Thyroid?
There are a few reasons for underactive thyroid disease to affect you. Some of the conditions are serious and ongoing, but others are temporary. We’ll go through each one. Don’t worry too much, as your doctor will go through all the likely reasons to help with treatment.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. The most common reason is due to a condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This is when the thyroid gland becomes inflamed. It’s known as an autoimmune disorder because the immune system can’t stop it from happening. In fact, the immune system contributes, believing that the thyroid is causing other health problems in the body. The body attacks the thyroid with antibodies, destroying the gland and preventing the hormones from being released.
This condition can appear on its own or may start because of a viral infection. Either way, your doctor will not usually be able to treat the reason. Doctors need to help treat the symptoms from the condition.
Getting a Poor Diet. Another common problem is due to your diet. If you don’t get enough iodine in your diet, your thyroid can’t work effectively. Your body can’t make this nutrient, so it needs you to give iodine to it. You can do it through table salt that has added iodine. It’s also possible to get it through eggs, fish, shellfish, and dairy products.
The iodine will help to support the thyroid function. When you get plenty of the nutrient, your body will increase the hormone production, and you’ll see a change in your metabolism.
Alternatively, you may have been through radioactive iodine treatment. This is something that those with hyperthyroidism can go through. It acts in the opposite way to hypothyroidism, but the treatment can cause the thyroid gland to stop working efficiently.
Problems During Pregnancy. One of the more common temporary reasons for an underactive thyroid is due to pregnancy. The full reasons aren’t understood, but it is considered due to inflammation within the body. The inflammation occurs within the thyroid and can cause the hormone levels to become disrupted.
This condition is known as postpartum thyroiditis. Pregnant women can initially experience a severe increase in the hormones and then a sudden, extreme drop. However, the condition is usually reversed after giving birth.
Problems that Start from Birth. Babies born with a problematic thyroid gland can experience issues in the future. The condition is known as congenital hypothyroidism, and it can mean going through treatments for life.
Most Western countries will now screen for this condition. Doctors act quickly to avoid extremely health problems due to it. The condition may be due to a poorly developed gland or one that just doesn’t work properly.
Medications and Radiotherapy. Some medications can stop the thyroid from working properly. Likewise, radiation therapy that you go through for some cancer treatments can cause an issue. These are usually experienced if the radiation therapy is around the neck. While destroying cancerous cells, the therapy can destroy the good cells around the thyroid. This makes it harder for the thyroid to work properly.
Some medications are designed to treat psychiatric or heart conditions, but they will still affect the thyroid hormone production. If you have to take these, your doctor will usually warn you of all the side effects and conditions that you could experience.
If your thyroid gland needs to be removed, even partially, this can also disrupt the gland. Some people find that the remaining gland doesn’t produce enough hormones and will cause the health conditions. This isn’t always the case. After surgery, your doctor will follow up and make sure you do not experience an underactive thyroid. If you are, there are medications available to help.
Other Disorders Can Affect the Gland. Finally, there are other conditions and diseases that can stop the gland from working efficiently. Damage or disorders of the pituitary glands and a hypothalamus disorder are the most common (although rare compared to the other reasons above).
The pituitary gland makes the thyroid-stimulating hormone. This is the hormone that tells the thyroid to produce its hormone, so damage to the pituitary gland can prevent that. Likewise, the hypothalamus in the brain prevents a hormone known as TRH, which affects the thyroid-stimulating hormone.
Your doctor will discuss whether you have primary or secondary hypothyroidism. Primary is when the gland is causing the problem. The secondary is when another condition or a type of medication is affecting the gland’s health. The hypothalamus causes tertiary hypothyroidism, as it affects the pituitary gland first and then the thyroid.
Are You at Risk and Do You Have Hypothyroidism?
Women are more likely to suffer from the condition than men. If you have a family member who already has an autoimmune disease, you are also more likely to suffer from this. Also, those who already have an autoimmune disease, including (but not limited to) multiple sclerosis, celiac disease, vitiligo, and Type I diabetes, are also more likely to have an underactive thyroid.
Some disabilities or mental health conditions can also cause a problem. These include Down syndrome and bipolar disorder.
However, it’s not just about having another condition. Aging or prematurely graying people are more likely to experience an underactive thyroid gland. White and Asian people are also more affected compared to other races.
While tiredness and weight loss are two of the most common symptoms, there are plenty of others to look out for. In women, a change to the menstrual cycle should be considered. Women going through menopause can experience a drop in their thyroid gland activity, as the body goes through many other changes.
Constipation, hair loss, dry hair, and dry skin are some of the physical symptoms. You may also find you suffer from the cold more, but then the opposite could happen where you sweat a lot. This can depend on the reason for the underactive thyroid.
Due to the fatigue, the mental health is affected. You can deal with unexplained weight gain while battling the shifting moods. This can lead to depression. Irritability and memory loss are also common. The fatigue affects your whole cognitive abilities. You can sometimes feel like your brain is foggy.
On top of that, you may experience a decreased libido. Your whole body is out of balance, meaning the hormones that control your sex life are affected.
In younger people, especially babies, no symptoms may appear. Therefore doctors will check for baby signs and run tests right away. If babies and children do experience symptoms, they can constantly include cold feet or hands, little to no growth, drowsiness, and sleepiness all the time, floppy muscles, yellowing (jaundice) of the skin, and poor feeding.
Of course, seeing many of those symptoms can also be a sign of many other conditions. If you see any of the symptoms, you should speak to your doctor immediately.
There are complications if hypothyroidism isn’t treated. The lack of hormone can cause the heart rate to slow, which can lead to heart problems. Infertility and obesity problems are also extremely common. Some people also experience joint pain.
If your underactive thyroid isn’t treated and you are pregnant, you may experience some problems with your baby’s development. The baby needs to get the thyroid hormone from you in the first three months. Not getting that can prevent the brain from developing fully.
Some of the most extreme problems include loss of consciousness, coma, and extremely low body temperatures.
Treating Hypothyroidism Effectively
Doctors will usually prescribe you a medication that helps to make the hormone synthetically. The hormone is called the T4 hormone and is usually prescribed in a pill form. It’s something that you need to take daily.
However, the medication can interact with other medication. Your doctor will know all about your current medications, but if you take any other over the counter or herbal remedies, you will need to make sure your doctor knows about them.
It can take time for your doctor to manage the levels of synthetic hormone needed. While your doctor can check for an underactive thyroid, there’s no test to see just how underactive it is. It’s not a case of all or no hormone.
Your doctor will want to bring you in for following checks on a regular basis. The blood tests will tell your doctor if you need more T4. Over time, your body’s hormone production can change, so your doctor may adjust levels years into the future.
Managing the Side Effects
If you are struggling with fatigue and weight gain, consider your dietary options. The best thing you can do is feed your body enough calories to get you through the day. It takes the time to figure out just how your metabolism is working. If you find you’re eating what your dietician or doctor recommends but are still gaining weight, you’ll want to look at reducing your calories. Do this slowly and safely, and always talk to your doctor about your diet.
A healthy and balanced diet is the best one you can follow. You don’t want to crash diet right now, as that will affect your metabolism further.
As your medication is leveled, you will find it easier to lose weight. The synthetic hormone acts like a normal functioning hormone, which means your metabolism will increase to normal. You’ll be like all the others in your weight loss class or group.
Get Help for Your Underactive Thyroid
If you suspect your thyroid isn’t working properly, you will need to get help from your doctor. Don’t try to repair the condition through herbal remedies and your diet. There are far more serious complications if you leave your thyroid gland suffering.
Your doctor will help to balance out the levels. It’s not easy at first, but you will eventually get there. Apart from taking a pill a day, you will feel like your regular self again.
It is possible to tackle the symptoms while you’re waiting for the levels to balance. Focus on a good diet that gives you the calories your body needs. Reduce the sugar and the caffeine to avoid energy highs and lows and opt for a diet that sustains you throughout the day.
If you are on any medication that can cause an underactive thyroid, your doctor will know. Doctors look out for signs at all checkups for these medications.