Introduction to Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid (a gland in the neck), is underactive and does not produce as much of its hormones as it should.
What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid (a gland in the neck), is underactive and does not produce as much of its hormones as it should. It can cause general tiredness, low mood and also an increase in weight. The cause will be determined and suitable treatment started. The deficient hormones can be replaced and monitored, usually offering successful long-term management.
It can be caused by iodine deficiency, autoimmune disease, drugs and certain treatments amongst other rarer causes. It can affect anyone at any age, however it is commoner in women (15:1 ratio). Some babies can be born with congenital hypothyroidism and this can be detected on standard blood tests shortly after birth.
What causes Hypothyroidism?
There are many causes of hypothyroidism. In the developing world, the commonest cause is a deficiency of iodine in the diet. There are several autoimmune conditions that can attack the thyroid and cause this condition. Certain medications can damage the function of the thyroid as well as medical conditions involving a parts of the brain called the pituitary gland and hypothalamus.
Doctors perform many investigations to find the cause, to determine the most suitable course of action.
What are the symptoms of Hypothyroidism?
There are many symptoms of having an underactive thyroid, all of which are as a result of having a deficiency of thyroid hormones. The commonest symptoms include weight gain, fatigue, intolerance to cold weather, depression and low mood, poor concentration, constipation, weak and aching muscles, dry skin, brittle nails, poor sex drive, nerve problems (commonly in the hand) and irregularity and changes in the menstrual cycle in females.
Depending on the age group, it can manifest in different ways. In children and teenagers, their growth may be slowed and they may start puberty at an earlier age. Elderly people may present with memory problems and low mood.
All these symptoms tend to improve with appropriate treatment. However, if they are left untreated, you may develop anaemia, suffer from hearing loss, bradycardia (slow heart rate) and have voice changes (lower and ‘hoarse’).
How is Hypothyroidism treated?
The treatment for hypothyroidism is the replacement of the deficient thyroid hormone. Levothyroxine is a daily tablet which can alleviate the symptoms of this condition. It may be started as a low dose which can be gradually increased depending on how much you require and whether you are still experiencing symptoms. Hypothyroidism is rarely curable and patients usually take levothyroxine for the rest of their lives. The drug has a low side-effect profile and is very effective at managing hypothyroidism.