Understanding a Hypothyroidism Thyroid

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Close-up of a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the throat. The gland is red and inflamed.

Introduction

Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid doesn’t make enough hormones. This can slow down your body and make you feel tired, gain weight, and feel cold. The main treatment is taking replacement hormones.

In this blog we’ll discuss these topics:

What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism occurs when there isn’t enough thyroid hormone in your bloodstream, causing your metabolism to slow down. This condition arises when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce and release sufficient thyroid hormone into your body, leading to a slowdown in metabolic processes that affect your entire body. Also known as underactive thyroid disease, hypothyroidism is quite common.

When thyroid hormone levels drop to shallow levels, the condition is called myxedema. Myxedema is a severe and life-threatening form of hypothyroidism

How does my thyroid work?

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. It helps control your body’s metabolism, which is how your body turns food into energy. Here’s how it works:

Making Hormones

  • The thyroid makes two main hormones: T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine).
  • These hormones are made from iodine, which you get from your diet.

Control by the Brain

  • A part of your brain called the hypothalamus checks if you need more thyroid hormones and sends a signal called TRH (thyrotropin-releasing hormone).
  • This signal tells another part of your brain, the pituitary gland, to release TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone).
  • TSH travels to your thyroid and tells it to make and release T4 and T3.

Hormone Function

  • The thyroid mostly makes T4, which is changed into the more active T3 in your body’s tissues.
  • T3 and T4 go into your cells and control how fast they work, affecting your heart rate, body temperature, and how quickly you use energy.

Feedback System

  • The levels of T3 and T4 in your blood send signals back to the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to keep things balanced.
  • If the levels are high, the brain reduces its signals to make more hormones. If the levels are low, the brain increases its signals.

By keeping the right amount of T3 and T4, your thyroid helps your metabolism run smoothly, supporting energy production, growth, and repair in your body.

Silhouette of a person feeling tired and sluggish, leaning against a wall with their head hung low.

What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, can cause a variety of symptoms because it slows down your body’s metabolism. Common symptoms include:

Fatigue – Feeling unusually tired and having low energy levels.

Weight Gain – Gaining weight easily or having difficulty losing weight.

Cold Sensitivity – Feeling cold more often than usual, even in warm environments.

Dry Skin and Hair – Experiencing dry, coarse skin and hair, and possibly hair loss.

Constipation – Having fewer bowel movements or difficulty passing stools.

Muscle Weakness – Feeling weakness in your muscles.

Joint Pain and Stiffness – Experiencing aches and stiffness in your joints.

Depression – Feeling unusually sad, down, or depressed.

Memory Problems – Having trouble remembering things or thinking clearly.

Slow Heart Rate – Having a slower than normal heart rate.

Hoarseness – Having a hoarse voice.

Puffy Face – Noticing puffiness in your face, especially around the eyes.

High Cholesterol – Having higher levels of cholesterol in your blood.

Menstrual Changes – Women may experience heavier or irregular menstrual periods.

If you experience several of these symptoms, it’s important to see a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

What causes hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, can be caused by several factors. Here are the most common causes:

Autoimmune Disease

  • The most common cause is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, leading to reduced hormone production.

Thyroid Surgery

  • Removal of all or part of the thyroid gland can result in hypothyroidism.

Radiation Therapy

  • Radiation treatment for cancers of the head and neck can damage the thyroid gland.

Medications

  • Certain medications, such as lithium (used for psychiatric disorders), can interfere with thyroid function.

Congenital Hypothyroidism

  • Some babies are born with a defective or absent thyroid gland.

Iodine Deficiency

  • Iodine is essential for thyroid hormone production. A lack of iodine in the diet can lead to hypothyroidism, though this is less common in developed countries where iodine is added to table salt.

Pituitary Disorders

  • Problems with the pituitary gland can affect the production of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), affecting the thyroid.

Thyroiditis

  • Inflammation of the thyroid gland can temporarily cause hypothyroidism.

Understanding these causes can help in diagnosing and managing hypothyroidism effectively. If you suspect you have hypothyroidism, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider for appropriate testing and treatment.

Will hypothyroidism make me gain weight?

Yes, hypothyroidism can make you gain weight. When your thyroid gland is underactive, it doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. These hormones are crucial for regulating your metabolism, which is how your body converts food into energy. With a slower metabolism, your body burns fewer calories, leading to weight gain.

Other factors related to hypothyroidism, such as fluid retention and changes in fat metabolism, can also contribute to weight gain. If you notice unexplained weight gain along with other symptoms like fatigue, cold sensitivity, or dry skin, it’s important to see a healthcare provider. They can perform tests to determine if hypothyroidism is the cause and recommend appropriate treatment.

Blue thermometer with a low reading next to a person wrapped in a blanket shivering.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis

Diagnosing hypothyroidism involves a few key steps

Medical History and Physical Exam

  • Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history.
  • They may also perform a physical examination, looking for signs such as dry skin, swelling, and a slow heart rate.

Blood Tests

  • Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH) Test: High levels of TSH indicate hypothyroidism because the pituitary gland is producing more TSH to try to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormones.
  • Thyroxine (T4) Test: Low levels of T4 confirm that the thyroid is not producing enough hormone.

Additional Tests

  • Sometimes, other tests like the T3 test and thyroid antibody tests are used to provide more information about thyroid function and the underlying cause.

Treatment

The main treatment for hypothyroidism is hormone replacement therapy:

Levothyroxine

  • This synthetic thyroid hormone replaces the deficient T4 hormone in your body.
  • It’s usually taken as a daily pill and helps to normalize hormone levels.

Monitoring and Adjusting Dosage

  • Regular blood tests are necessary to monitor TSH and T4 levels.
  • Your healthcare provider will adjust your dosage based on these tests to ensure you receive the correct amount.

Lifestyle and Dietary Considerations

  • Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can support your treatment.
  • Certain foods and supplements can interfere with levothyroxine absorption, so it’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s advice on timing your medication and meals.

Regular Check-ups

  • Regular follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider are essential to monitor your condition and adjust treatment as needed.

With proper diagnosis and treatment, most people with hypothyroidism can manage their symptoms effectively and lead normal, healthy lives.

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Living with Hypothyroidism

Living with hypothyroidism involves managing your condition and maintaining a healthy lifestyle to reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life. Here are some tips and guidelines to help you manage hypothyroidism effectively:

Take Your Medication Regularly

  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for taking levothyroxine or any other prescribed thyroid hormone replacement.
  • Take your medication at the same time each day, preferably on an empty stomach.

Monitor Your Symptoms

  • Keep track of how you feel and any changes in your symptoms.
  • Report any new or worsening symptoms to your healthcare provider.

Regular Check-Ups

  • Schedule regular visits with your healthcare provider to monitor your thyroid hormone levels and adjust your medication if necessary.

Healthy Diet

  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
  • Ensure you get enough iodine in your diet, as it’s essential for thyroid function. Iodized salt, dairy products, seafood, and eggs are good sources.
  • Avoid excessive intake of soy products and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli, as they can interfere with thyroid hormone production and absorption when consumed in large amounts.

Exercise Regularly

  • Engage in regular physical activity to help boost your metabolism, maintain a healthy weight, and improve overall well-being.
  • Aim for a mix of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises.

Manage Stress

  • Practice stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, or mindfulness.
  • Ensure you get enough sleep and maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Stay Informed

  • Educate yourself about hypothyroidism and stay up-to-date with new information and treatments.
  • Join support groups or connect with others who have hypothyroidism to share experiences and tips.

Medication Interactions:

  • Be aware of medications and supplements that can interfere with your thyroid hormone replacement, such as calcium and iron supplements, certain antacids, and some cholesterol-lowering drugs.
  • Discuss any new medications or supplements with your healthcare provider.

By following these guidelines and working closely with your healthcare provider, you can effectively manage hypothyroidism and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.

Faqs 

Q1. How do thyroid problems start?

A1. Thyroid problems can begin due to:

  • Iodine deficiency: Not getting enough iodine in your diet.
  • Autoimmune diseases: When your immune system attacks your thyroid, like in Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s disease.
  • Inflammation (thyroiditis): This can cause pain or no pain at all.

Q2. How to cure hypothyroidism symptoms?

A2. To treat hypothyroidism, you usually take a thyroid hormone medicine called levothyroxine (Levo-T, Synthroid, others) every day. This pill helps balance your hormone levels and makes the symptoms go away.

Q3. What is the thyroid and its symptoms?

A3. Symptom: Weight Gain or Loss

A sudden change in weight is a common sign of a thyroid problem.

  • Weight gain: This may mean your thyroid is not making enough hormones (hypothyroidism).
  • Weight loss: This may mean your thyroid is making too many hormones.

Q4. What is stage 3 hypothyroidism?

A4. Stage 3 is called subclinical hypothyroidism.

  • Blood tests: TSH levels are slightly high (3-10 mU/L), but free T3 and free T4 levels are normal.
  • Thyroid antibodies: These may be higher than in stage 2, causing more inflammation in the thyroid gland.

Q5. What is the first stage of thyroid cancer?

A5. Stage 1 thyroid cancer means:

The cancer is only in the thyroid and is no bigger than 4 cm.

It has not spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

More health questions? More answers are on our blog: