A brief explanation of hypothyroidism and its symptoms
Hypothyroidism, or an under or overactive thyroid, is the condition in which your body produces the incorrect amount of thyroid hormones. Your thyroid’s main purpose is to regulate your body’s metabolism and an underactive thyroid will cause your metabolism to slow. An overactive thyroid will produce too much of these hormones. There is an estimated 10 million Americans that suffer from this relatively common medical condition.
Hypothyroidism symptoms vary, but generally include tiredness, an inability to tolerate cold and weight gain. There are a number of causes of hypothyroidism, but the most common include:
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This disease causes the body’s immune system to attack the thyroid. This attack causes the thyroid gland to work harder to produce hormones, which leads to the thyroid becoming enlarged. Commonly referred to as a goiter.
Subacute thyroiditis. Caused by a viral infection, this disease causes the immune system to release large amounts of lymphocytes that attack the thyroid. Again, this causes the thyroid gland to work harder and become enlarged.
Silent thyroiditis.Instead of attacking the thyroid itself, this imbalance causes the lymphocytes to infest the follicles of the thyroid gland, which leads to under-activity and hypothyroidism.
The most common early symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Mental and physical fatigue
- Weight gain
Other symptoms that are less common, but can be present, include:
- Sensitivity to cold
- Cold hands and feet
- Thick tongue
- Dry and brittle hair and nails
- Muscle or joint pain
- Pale or yellowish skin
During the later stages of the disease, other symptoms can appear,these include:
- Poor memory
- Slow thought processing
- Poor circulation
- Decreased sense of taste and smell
- Swelling of the face
- Swollen hands and feet
- Muscle spasms
- Joint stiffness
Diagnosing hypothyroidism is done by testing the blood for the proper levels of thyroid stimulating hormones (TSH). Having one or more of the hypothyroidism symptoms is usually enough to have your doctor order the testing done. Because of the many factors that can affect the TSH level, a second or even third test may be ordered by the doctor to ensure he has the correct diagnosis. The reasons for multiple testing vary, but can include the patient suffering from an unrelated illness, having an iodine deficiency or undergoing radiation therapy. Usually the TSH levels are not checked while undergoing a hospital stay because of the risk of false readings.
Treating hypothyroidism can take a number of forms. The most common of which is a synthetic hormone replacement regimen. Synthetic thyroxine, or levothyroxine, treatment is usually prescribed and this procedure usually stabilizes the thyroid within 4 to 8 weeks. Regular checks can last for up to a year following the procedure. Other forms of thyroid replacement therapy are available and you should discuss the best procedure for you with your doctor.
Hypothyroidism isn’t a problem to be taken lightly, but with the proper diagnosis and an effective thyroid replacement regimen, the problems associated with it can be minimized and your body can resume its natural balance relatively quickly after diagnosis and treatment.