Have you recently experienced bouts of unexplained fatigue, or problems with your memory that went beyond where you left your car keys? Of course these symptoms could be the result of stress, but they could also originate from a small gland located in the front of the neck called the thyroid. The thyroid is responsible for the production of hormones that control a person’s metabolism. Hypothyroidism, often confused with its counterpart hyperthyroidism, is a condition in which the thyroid does not produce enough hormones. Clinical studies reveal that hypothyroidism occurs more frequently in women than it does in men.
It has been reported that several conditions may play an active role, or at least act as a catalyst in the development and onset of hypothyroidism. These conditions may include the following:
- Certain medications such as lithium and amiodarone
- Some women tend to develop hypothyroidism during and after pregnancy. If this condition remains untreated, it could potentially jeopardize the health of both mother and child.
- Thyroid surgery
- Treatment of hyperthyroidism
- Subacute thyroiditis: This condition refers to the inflammation that affects the thyroid gland following a viral infection.
- Pituitary and hypothalmic disease
- Iodine deficiency: Only cases of severe iodine deficiency have the power to start hypothyroidism. This condition is rare in the United States.
- Autoimmune thyroiditis: Otherwise known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland, which results in enlargement or goiter, as well as the progressive destruction of the thyroid.
What Are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?
Many symptoms are associated with hypothyroidism; however, just because you experience one or even several of the symptoms listed below, a trip to your healthcare provider and a simple blood test will either rule out other possible reasons for the symptoms, or it will confirm a diagnosis of hypothyroidism. This list of symptoms is not exhaustive; therefore, if you experience a persisting symptom that lasts for more than two weeks, make an appointment with your doctor. The following is a list of common symptoms associated with hypothyroidism:
- Unexplained fatigue and generalized weakness
- Intolerance to cold
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Unusual weight gain
- Dry, rough skin
- Swelling of the eyes and face
- Coarse hair or hair loss
- Irregular or heavy menstruation
- Increase in cholesterol levels
- Memory loss and slow recall
- Poor appetite
- Change in the sound/tone of voice
What Are the Risk Factors Associated with Hypothyroidism?
- Age: Hypothyroidism most frequently tends to strike the over-50 age group
- Gender: Most people with hypothyroidism are women
- History: If you have an autoimmune disease, you may be at a higher risk of developing hypothyroidism
- Family history: If a member of your immediate family (going back as far as your grandparents) has an autoimmune disease, you may be at an increased risk in developing this condition.
- Surgical history: You may be at an increased risk of developing hypothyroidism if you have had radiation therapy to the neck or upper chest, or if you have had thyroid surgery.
What Treatment and Drugs Are Available for Hypothyroidism?
Treatment for hypothyroidism typically consists of such oral medications as Synthroid. This particular type of medication is prescribed to restore and balance out the body’s hormone levels. Thyroid medications generally take several days and up to two weeks before you begin to notice a change in your physical well being. Feelings of fatigue and reversal of weight gain may be the first things you notice. You may also notice a drop in your cholesterol numbers. Thyroid medication must be taken daily and is generally a lifelong treatment. Regular follow-up appointments with your endocrinologist are vital as a blood test to check TSH levels will be necessary. Dosage of thyroid medication may need to be tweaked along the way and this is usually determined by the results of the TSH test.
Because the gland is so small and the work it does is not physically tangible, it is very easy to leave hypothyroidism untreated. However, if this condition is left untreated, hypothyroidism could cause more severe conditions such as heart disease, high cholesterol, birth defects and miscarriage. If the TSH blood test is not a routine part of your annual physical, request that it be included.
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