Hypothyroidism is a condition where the body has an insufficient amount of the thyroid hormone.  Since the primary purpose of this hormone is to regulate the body’s metabolism, it is no wonder that this problem can have such a dramatic impact on the entire body.  Hypothyroidism is more common than most people think.  In fact, statistical averages show that approximately 10 million Americans are suffering from this condition.  It’s difficult to find out exactly how many have it due to so many suffering from it and not even knowing it, as its symptoms can vary dramatically depending on the extent of hormone deficiency there is.

What Are the Causes of Hypothyroidism?

There are two primary causes of hypothyroidism.  The most common cause for thyroid failure is due to inflammation of the thyroid, which results in a large percentage of the cells of the thyroid ending up either damaged or dead.  The second most common cause is due to medical treatments.  This may be from such things as the surgical removal of a portion of the thyroid due to cancer.  If the remaining cells of the thyroid are insufficient for the requirements of the body, hypothyroidism is the result.

What Are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?

As previously stated, the symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary greatly.  Some of the symptoms are:

  • Weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Memory loss
  • Constipation
  • Hair loss
  • Rough, dry skin
  • Coarse, dry hair
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles
  • Muscle aching or cramping
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Puffy face
  • Elevated blood cholesterol
  • Decreased heart rate

If you can relate to some of these symptoms, it may be time to get your thyroid checked.  Your doctor may refer you to an endocrinologist.  If you have already been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and continue to suffer from any of these symptoms, this is something that should also be brought to the attention of your doctor, as your current dosage may be inadequate.

What Risks Are Associated with Hypothyroidism?

Since the body anticipates a certain amount of thyroid hormone, when the amount being produced is insufficient, the pituitary gland will make additional TSH, which triggers the thyroid to produce more hormones.  If this continues, prolonged exposure to this excessive TSH can cause a condition called a goiter which is due to enlargement of the thyroid.

If the condition is left untreated, symptoms typically progress over time.  In extreme cases, it can have a life-threatening impact on the body due to severe depression, heart failure, and even coma.

How is Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?

The most common diagnosis is performed through a blood test.  However, for some individuals, the initial test may not be conclusive and additional testing may be necessary.

How is Hypothyroidism Treated?

Treatment is typically a pill taken on a daily basis.  It is entirely treatable, but a patient may have to go through a few different treatments until they find the one that works best for them, as each individual reacts differently to the medications available.

In addition, someone diagnosed with hypothyroidism should set up a schedule with their doctor to follow up with additional tests in the future to determine whether medication is at the proper dosage.  This is important to remember because in some cases, the thyroid hormone production levels may vary, causing medication to need to be adjusted to these variations.