Hypothyroidism – Overview
Hypothyroidism also known as under-active thyroid is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain critical hormones.
Hypothyroidism may not cause symptoms which are noticeable in the early stages. Over the period of time, hypothyroidism if not treated can cause a number of health problems, such as obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease.
Thyroid function tests are available to diagnose hypothyroidism thyroid function tests which are accurate are available. Once the right dosage is found by the doctor then treatment with synthetic thyroid hormone is usually simple, safe and effective.
Hypothyroidism – Symptoms
Depending on the hormone deficiency severity the signs and symptoms may vary of hypothyroidism. Over a number of years often the problems tend to develop slowly.
At first, the symptoms of hypothyroidism may be noticed barely, such as fatigue and weight gain. Or they may simply be attributed to getting older. But as the metabolism continues to slow down, more-obvious problems may be developed
Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism may include:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
- Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
Hypothyroidism – Infants
Although hypothyroidism mostly affects the middle-aged and older women, the condition can be developed by anyone, including infants. Initially, babies who are born without a thyroid gland or with a gland that is not working properly may have few signs and symptoms. Having problems with hypothyroidism in newborns, the problems may include:
- Jaundice i.e. yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. In most cases, this occurs when a metabolism of the baby’s liver does not happen then a substance called bilirubin, which normally forms when the body recycles old or damaged red blood cells.
- A large, protruding tongue.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Hoarse crying.
- An umbilical hernia.
As the progression of the disease, infants are likely to have trouble feeding and may fail to grow and develop in a normal way. They may also have:
- Poor muscle tone
- Excessive sleepiness
When hypothyroidism is left untreated in infants, even mild cases can lead to severe physical and mental retardation.
Hypothyroidism in children and teens
Generally, children and teens that develop hypothyroidism have similar signs and symptoms as adults do, but they may also experience:
- Poor growth, resulting in short stature
- Delay in the development of permanent teeth
- Delayed puberty
- Poor mental development
The doctor should be consulted if feeling tired for no reason or have any of the other signs or symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as dry skin, a pale, puffy face, constipation or a hoarse voice.
If hormone therapy for hypothyroidism is received, follow-up visits should be scheduled as often as the doctor recommends. Initially, it’s vital to make sure if receiving the correct dose of medicine. And over time, the dose may needed to be changed
Hypothyroidism – Causes
When enough hormones are not produced thyroid, the balance of chemical reactions in the body can be upset. Causes can be various, including autoimmune disease, hypothyroidism treatments, radiation therapy, thyroid surgery and certain medications.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the front of the neck, just below the Adam’s apple. Hormones produced by the thyroid gland i.e. triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) have an enormous health impact, affecting all aspects of the metabolism. These hormones also effect the control of important functions, such as body temperature and heart rate.
When the thyroid gland fails to produce enough hormones it results in hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism may be because of a number of factors, including:
- An autoimmune disorder known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system develops antibodies that attack the tissues. Sometimes this process involves the thyroid gland.
Scientists aren’t certain why this occurs, but it’s likely a combination of factors, such as genes and an environmental trigger. However when it happens, the antibodies affects the thyroid’s ability to make hormones.
- People are often treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications when too much thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) is produced. The aim of these treatments is to get thyroid function back to normal. But sometimes it may result in permanent hypothyroidism, as correcting hypothyroidism can end up lowering thyroid hormone production too much.
- Through thyroid surgery removing all or a large portion of the thyroid gland can diminish or halt hormone production. In that case, thyroid hormone will need to be taken for life.
- Radiation therapy which is used to treat cancers of the head and neck can affect the thyroid gland and may lead to hypothyroidism.
- A number of medications can be a contribution to hypothyroidism. Lithium is one such medication, which is used to treat certain psychiatric disorders. Doctor should be consulted about the effect on thr thyroid gland if any medications are being taken.
Hypothyroidism may less often result from one of the following below:
- Congenital disease.A defective thyroid gland or no thyroid gland is present in some babies when they are born. In most of the cases, the thyroid gland didn’t develop normally for reasons which are not known, but some children have the disorder inherited. Often, infants appear normal at birth with congenital hypothyroidism. This is one of the reasons why most states are now having a requirement for newborn thyroid screening.
- A relatively uncommon cause of hypothyroidism is the pituitary gland failure to produce enough thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) which is usually because of a benign tumor of the pituitary gland.
- Hypothyroidism is developed in some women during or after pregnancy (postpartum hypothyroidism), often because they develop antibodies to their own thyroid gland. If not treated, hypothyroidism increases the risk of miscarriage, premature delivery and preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that causes a significant rise in a blood pressure of women during the last three months of pregnancy. It can also have a serious effect on the developing fetus.
- The trace mineral iodine which is found normally in seafood, seaweed, plants grown in iodine-rich soil and iodized salt which is essential for the development of thyroid hormones. Iodine intake if too little can lead to hypothyroidism, and too much iodine intake can worsen hypothyroidism in people who already have the condition. Iodine deficiency is common is some parts of the world, but the inclusion of iodine to table salt has virtually eliminated this problem.
Hypothyroidism – Risk factors
Although hypothyroidism can be developed in anyone, but at an increased risk if:
- A woman
- Age older than 60
- Family history of thyroid disease
- Having an autoimmune disease, such as type 1 diabetes or celiac disease
- Radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications treatment
- Radiations received to neck or upper chest
- Had thyroid surgery (partial thyroidectomy)
- Pregnant or delivered a baby within the past six months
Hypothyroidism – Complications
Hypothyroidism which is not treated can lead to a number of health problems:
- Goiter can be caused which is a constant stimulation of the thyroid to release more hormones may cause the gland to become larger. Although normally it is not uncomfortable, a large goiter can have an effect on appearance and may interfere with swallowing or breathing.
- An increased risk of heart disease and heart failure may be related to hypothyroidism which is primarily because high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol i.e. the “bad” cholesterol can occur in people with an underactive thyroid.
- Mental health issue like depression may occur early in hypothyroidism and may increase severity over time. Slowed mental functioning can be a cause of hypothyroidism
- Peripheral neuropathy.Long-term hypothyroidism which is not controlled can cause damage to peripheral nerves. These are the nerves that convey information from brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body for example, arms and legs. Peripheral neuropathy may cause in the affected areas pain, numbness and tingling.
- Myxedema is a rare, life-threatening condition which is the outcome of long-term, undiagnosed hypothyroidism. The signs and symptoms include intense cold intolerance and drowsiness followed by profound lethargy and unconsciousness.
A myxedema coma can be triggered through sedatives, infection or other stress on the body. If there are signs or symptoms of myxedema, immediate emergency medical treatment may be needed.
- Interfere with ovulation can be a cause of low levels of thyroid hormone, which impairs fertility. In addition, some of the reasons of hypothyroidism such as autoimmune disorder can also impair fertility.
- Babies born to women who have untreated thyroid disease may have a risk which is higher of birth defects compared to babies born to healthy mothers. These children are also more inclined to serious intellectual and developmental problems.
Untreated hypothyroidism in infants present at birth is at risk of serious problems with development of both physical and mental. The chances of normal development are excellent if the condition is diagnosed within the first few months of life.