Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, commonly known as underactive thyroid, is a condition caused by the thyroid gland not producing enough of the thyroxine hormone.

Thyroxine is important to the body as it controls metabolism and energy use. This is why classic symptoms of underactive thyroid are feelings of lethargy and tiredness. These symptoms may also be accompanied by weight gain and in some cases depression.

Hypothyroidism is at the opposite end of the spectrum to the hyperthyroidism condition, where the body produces too much thyroxine and our metabolism begins to race. Rather than tiredness, hyperthyroidism causes the body to go into overdrive, leading to feelings of stress and anxiety.

Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid affects more women than men - especially older women over the age of 50.

Effective management rather than cure is the goal for most people, and this often achieved by taking underactive thyroid drugs to boost hormone levels.

Causes of Hypothyroidism

Located in the neck, the thyroid gland controls the body’s metabolism and growth by releasing the hormones  thyroxine and triiodothyronine.

Thyroid conditions like hypothyroidism are caused by a lack in production of thyroxine – also known as T4. What triggers this lack of production is most likely an autoimmune reaction to certain infections. When this happens, the body’s defence mechanism – antibodies - attack healthy cells and tissue, instead of harmful and damaged cells and tissue.

Hypothyroidism may also be caused by a condition called Hashimoto's disease. This can be genetically inherited and is also linked to certain diabetes types and vitiligo – a skin pigmentation disorder.

Problems with the pituitary gland, or drugs administered for another condition may also trigger hypothyroidism.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

A decrease in metabolism speed means that weight gain can be a sign of the hypothyroidism condition. Other indicators include feeling lethargic, tiredness, problems with bowel movements – diarrhoea and constipation, feeling depressed, lack of libido, muscle aches, and over-sensitivity to the cold.

As the symptoms of an underactive thyroid can take years to fully manifest themselves, and may mimic other conditions, it is not always diagnosed in the early stages. If you have any concerns or prolonged symptoms, it is advisable to talk to your doctor.

Thyroid treatments

Upon diagnosis of an underactive thyroid, your doctor will usually prescribe levothyroxine – thyroid hormone replacement tablets. Examination of the level of thyroid-stimulating hormones (or TSH) in your blood will determine the strength of tablets you require. Over time, repeated checks will determine how your body is responding and if the treatment needs to be modified.

Most people react well to hypothyroidism treatment, helping them get their hormone levels back in check to lead an active life.

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