Hypothyroidism, also called “underactive thyroid disease,” is simply a common condition in which the thyroid gland produces insufficient thyroid hormone needed by the body. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the lower part of the neck. Read More
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What do you mean by hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism, also called “underactive thyroid disease,” is simply a common condition in which the thyroid gland produces insufficient thyroid hormone needed by the body. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the lower part of the neck. It produces hormones that affect almost the whole body and its metabolism by regulating the body’s temperature, heartbeat, digestive system, and the rate at which the body utilizes calories.
Hypothyroidism does not show signs at its early stage and would lead to serious health complications when left untreated, which include heart diseases, infertility, joint pain, obesity, etc. Studies have shown it affects 1 in 8 women more than males. Older people (over 60 years) are more susceptible to this condition. However, hypothyroidism can start at any age; children can also be affected. According to Healthline, an estimated 10 million people in the United States are affected, with 4.6 percent being children.
Subclinical hypothyroidism is said to occur when hypothyroidism is still in its mild and early form. At this stage, treatment is effective and safe.
What are the types of hypothyroidism?
- Primary hypothyroidism – This condition results from a problem with the thyroid gland itself.
- Secondary hypothyroidism – This is when hypothyroidism occurs due to underlying causes that interfere with thyroid functioning.
- Tertiary hypothyroidism – This occurs due to the malfunctioning of the hypothalamus that affects the thyroid gland.
This condition could be caused by several factors, which include:
- Autoimmune disease.
This happens when the body’s immune cells fight the body cells believing they are foreign cells, leading to a severe condition such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a disease that attacks the thyroid gland.
- Too much hyperthyroidism medication
- Thyroid surgery
- Radiation therapy
- Congenital disease
- Iodine deficiency in the diet
- Insufficient production of thyroid-stimulating hormone by the pituitary.
- Pregnancy causes postpartum thyroiditis.
- Using certain drugs, such as interferon-alpha, interleukin-2, and amiodarone.
- The inability of the hypothalamus to function effectively.
What are the risk factors associated with hypothyroidism?
The following are factors that increase the potential of having hypothyroidism:
- Old age
- A family history of thyroid disease
- Autoimmune illnesses like type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, Addison disease, pernicious anemia, etc.
- Down syndrome
- Bipolar disorder
The symptoms vary depending on how severe the condition is. Symptoms may not show at the early stage, but over some time, it becomes more visible. Symptoms include:
- Fatigue and muscle weakness.
- Unexplainable weight gain or weight loss.
- Dry skin.
- Increase in cholesterol level.
- Menstrual flow becomes heavy and irregular.
- Slow heart rate.
- Impaired memory
- Painful joint
- Increase sensitivity to cold
- Hoarseness of voice
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Puffy face
- Jaundice; yellowing of the skin- occurs due to the inability of the liver to metabolize bilirubin.
- Protruding tongue
- Hoarse crying
- Umbilical hernia
- Excessive sleepiness
- Poor muscle tone
- Delayed puberty
- Poor mental development
- Poor growth
- Cold hands and feet
How is hypothyroidism diagnosed?
The following are steps to diagnosing hypothyroidism:
- A medical history will be checked and examined.
- A physical examination is carried out, checking for swelling in the neck, dry skin, slow reflexes and heart rate, sensitivity to cold, and constipation.
- A blood test will be carried out to check the hormonal level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine.
- A thyroid scan is also carried out in other to check for inflammation.
- TPO (positive thyroid peroxidase) antibodies test- It suggests a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
- In subclinical hypothyroidism, the thyroid-stimulating level may be low while having a normal thyroxine level.
How is hypothyroidism treated?
Hypothyroidism could be a lifelong condition because it may not have a cure but can be managed using supplements that can boost the thyroid hormone level in the body back to its normal level, such as levothyroxine. When treatment begins, it will take a while before one starts feeling relief in symptoms. As time progresses, the dosage will be reduced, but medication will most likely continue for a very long time. A blood test will be performed periodically to show how well the medication works. Eating meals rich in a balanced diet and vegetables. Avoid meals that contain soy and too much fiber, as it interferes with the absorption of thyroid hormones.
What are the complications associated with hypothyroidism?
When hypothyroidism is left untreated for a long time, it could lead to some medical conditions such as:
- Goiter; when the thyroid gland enlarges more than normal
- Heart problems due to an increase in lipoprotein cholesterol.
- Mental issues such as depression and slow mental functioning.
- Peripheral neuropathy is damage to the peripheral nerve.
- Infertility since thyroid hormone affects ovulation
- Birth defects.
- Joint pains.
- Reduced kidney function.
Some factors could lead to developing hypothyroidism apart from goiter or thyroid. Such factors include iodine deficiency, thyroiditis, etc., which could lead to the development of hypothyroidism.
One of the suitable methods of diagnosing hypothyroidism is through a blood test and thyroid scan, which will ascertain the level of thyroid hormone.
Hypothyroidism affects the body’s energy level, bowel movements, mental function, heart rate, etc. Its effect could be mild or severe, depending on the insufficiency of the thyroid hormone.
Foods such as soy food, cabbages, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, cassava, strawberries, millet, pine nuts, etc., should be avoided by people suffering from hypothyroidism as it affects the absorption of thyroid hormone.
The part of our body which shows our level of thyroid hormone in our hands and nails. It can cause dermatologic findings such as nail infection, slow nail growth, nail splitting and lifting, and vertical white ridges on the nails.
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition seen more commonly in females. One of the reasons why it affects females is hormones, they play a vital role in the functions affected by autoimmune conditions, and women experience more shifts in hormones during their lifetime .
A person, during a time, converts from hyperthyroidism to hypothyroidism and vice versa. However, it is quite rare for both conditions to occur simultaneously .
People diagnosed with hypothyroidism generally face mood disorders such as depression or sadness. In addition, hypothyroidism can lead to fatigue, which can also affect a person’s mood.
Hypothyroidism cannot be prevented completely. The best way to prevent hypothyroidism from getting worse is by following a few measures, and they are listed below:
1) Eat a balanced diet
2) Exercise regularly
3) Avoid food items that will worsen the condition
4) One Has to check their weight regularly.
5) Monitor the levels of TSH and take medications as per the doctor.
6) Have a regular follow-up with the doctor.