Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism): Symptoms and Treatment

An underactive thyroid results in the onset of a condition known as hypothyroidism. It occurs when the thyroid gland, an endocrine gland situated in the neck that produces the thyroid hormone, produces less than the required amount of this chemical messenger. This hormone is responsible for maintaining the optimum metabolism of your body. Thus an underactive thyroid causes many of your body’s functions to slow down. This condition is most common in women (1 in every 50 women), and the risk to developing this condition increases with age.

Hypothyroidism is primarily of two types:

Primary hypothyroidism: The thyroid gland fails to generate sufficient quantity of hormones due to certain underlying causes.

Secondary hypothyroidism: In this case, the pituitary gland malfunctions and is unable to produce sufficient quantity of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). Lack of TSH in turn decreases the production of T3 (Triiodothyronine) and T4 (Thyroxine).

Symptoms

The following are the symptoms brought on by an underactive thyroid, which have a tendency to become more severe as time progresses.

  • Experiencing a sense of tiredness and fatigue
  • Feeling sleepy very frequently
  • Pale complexion and dry skin
  • Nails may become exceedingly brittle
  • Receding hairline
  • Weight gain
  • Hoarse, gruff voice, deepening of the voice may occur
  • Constipation
  • Fertility troubles and heightened risk of miscarriage
  • Heavy, irregular or prolonged menstrual periods
  • Slowing down of the heart rate (Bradycardia)
  • Poor muscle tone
  • The thyroid gland may swell up leading to an ailment referred to as Goiter
  • Depression
  • Retention of water (bloating)
  • Sluggish reactions
  • Increased sensitivity to cold

Causes

  • Autoimmune Thyroiditis: In this form of hypothyroidism, your body’s antibodies, instead of protecting you against infection, bacteria start destroying the thyroid gland cells and prevent it from producing the thyroid hormones finally leading to hypothyroidism.
  • Severe iodine deficiency is a major cause of an underactive thyroid gland
  • Hypothyroidism may also result due to a congenital defect, as a side effect of some medication or as a result of disorders of the hypothalamus

Treatment

It has been seen that seldom does hypothyroidism resolve by itself, generally the condition tends to worsen if left untreated.

The most common course of action involves taking thyroxine replacement medicines that help to eliminate the symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland. This medication works by simply replacing the hormone that the body is unable to produce due to varied reasons. The dosage prescribed is changed on a case-by-case basis according to the patient’s blood test reports. It has been noted that most individuals feel better very soon after starting the treatment. By and large one starts off with a small dose, which is gradually increased over a period of time. The level of the hormone is monitored and once the optimum level is reached the dosage is maintained; it is commonplace to conduct periodic (typically yearly) tests to ensure that the appropriate level of the thyroid hormone is sustained.

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