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Everything you need to know about Hypothyroidism

As the term indicates, hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid disease, is a condition of the endocrine system wherein the thyroid gland is unable to produce and secrete ample thyroid hormones for normal bodily functions. The thyroid gland resembles the shape of a butterfly and is located in the lower front part of the neck, right below the larynx. It releases hormones that are responsible for body regulation, metabolism and general energy usage. A drop in thyroid levels means that the body burns energy at a slower rate than normal resulting in slower heart rate and body temperature, and an overall sluggish functioning of every system in your body. 

What are the symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Although there is a paucity of research in the area, statistics maintain that the prevalence of hypothyroidism among Indians is approximately 11%. According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, an estimated 25 million people have some form of hypothyroidism but only half have been diagnosed. While hypothyroidism can affect anyone at any age, it is most prevalent among females and those above the age of 60. 

The telling symptoms of hypothyroidism vary from person to person depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency. In fact, much like any other chronic condition, like diabetes or other complications that concern urology or gynecology, the symptoms of hypothyroidism are not apparent in the initial stages and might take up to several years to surface. This explains why the majority of the affected demographic remain undiagnosed, heralding the need for periodic healthcare checkups.

That said, the general signs of hypothyroidism include but are not limited to the following:-

  1. Sudden unexplained spike in weight and difficulty to lose it

  2. Excessive fatigue

  3. Brain fog and impaired memory

  4. Increased sensitivity to cold

  5. Changes in menstrual cycle/other fertility concerns

  6. Stiffness and aches in the muscles and joints

  7. Hoarseness

  8. Dryness of skin

  9. Thinning of hair on scalp and face. Eg: eyebrows, moustache

  10. Swelling of thyroid gland

  11. General puffiness 

  12. Elevated cholesterol

  13. Depression

  14. Deceleration in heart rate

  15. Constipation and other bowel related complications

Symptoms among infants are extremely rare but may include:

  1. Cold hands and feet

  2. Constipation

  3. Extreme sleepiness and fatigue

  4. Little to no growth

  5. Low muscle tone 

  6. Persistent jaundice 

  7. Poor feeding habits

  8. Puffy face

  9. Stomach bloating

  10. Swollen tongue

  11. Umbilical hernia

If left untreated, patients may experience: 

• decrease in the ability to taste and smell

• puffy face, hands, and feet

• slow speech

• thickening of skin

• thinning of eyebrows

Several symptoms are also common symptoms of other chronic disorders or merely signs of ageing. Therefore, it is imperative to consult the best hospital and/or doctors for a thorough diagnosis.

How to diagnose Hypothyroidism

The most common diagnosis is conducted in the form of blood tests to evaluate the levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine-binding globulin (T4).

There are numerous precipitating factors that are responsible for an underactive thyroid gland. Some of the most common causes are:

  1. Autoimmune Diseases: Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and atrophic thyroiditis are the most common causes of hypothyroidism. Here, your immunity system mistakes the tissues of your thyroid gland as an invader to your body and produces antibodies that attack it. This results in hindered production of thyroid hormones, slowing down the whole rate and process.
    Scientists haven’t yet been able to pinpoint the exact reason that underpins the development of an autoimmune disorder but factors such as genetics and external factors do act as catalysts.
    Often, autoimmune diseases lead to a condition called thyroiditis or the inflammation of  the thyroid gland. In this condition, your thyroid gland generates a copious amount of hormones all at once and then undergoes a massive drop in production leading to the resultant hypothyroidism. Thyroiditis may also be caused due to certain viral infections.

  2. Surgical Removal of Thyroid Gland: Partial or complete removal of thyroid gland due to factors such as thyroid nodules, thyroid cancer or other complications may lead to under secretion of thyroid hormones. Those who undergo complete removal are at a much higher risk and almost always develop hypothyroidism.

  3. Radiation Treatment: Radiation treatments may affect the functionality of thyroid gland to produce sufficient thyroid hormones for the body.

  4. Medication: Prolonged usage of certain types of medication especially those which contain amiodarone, lithium, interferon alpha, and interleukin-2 may trigger hypothyroidism.

  5. Iodine; too much or too little: Iodine is an important factor in the production of thyroid hormones. Since our body doesn’t produce its own iodine we must consume it in the form of dietary sources such as salt, eggs, fish, seaweed, shellfish, among others. However, too much iodine is harmful too. Moderation is key.

Treatments of Hypothyroidism

While there is no definitive cure for this condition, there exists medication that helps regulate hypothyroidism. Synthetic forms of the thyroid hormones are used as a replacement for the hormones that your body fails to produce in ample amounts. The dosage will obviously depend on the severity of the condition along with other personal factors; the medication will be prescribed as your doctor deems fit.

 If you have any concerns about the side effects of medication and treatment, you should always consult with your endocrinologist.

Hypothyroidism Doctor near me

Additionally, shifts towards a healthy lifestyle and diet in conjunction with medication may also improve hypothyroidism. Since this is linked to pretty much every other system in your body, proper care may also improve other factors and minimise the chances of cardiothoracic complications, and regulate metabolism and blood pressure, among other things. So, if you have any queries or concerns regarding this, make sure you reach out to the team of doctors near you!