Hypothyroidism is also known as under-active thyroid or low thyroid. This is a disorder of the endocrine system as in this condition the thyroid gland is unable to produce sufficient thyroid hormone.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped, small gland found at the front of our neck. It releases thyroid hormone that is responsible for multiple functions related to brain, heart, skin, calcium absorption, digestion and metabolism.
When the thyroid gland fails to release the required number of thyroid hormone, the natural functions of our body are affected.
Signs and symptoms of Hypothyroidism
The symptoms of hypothyroidism differ from person to person. The signs and symptoms depend on the severity of the disease and sometimes it is difficult to diagnose. Here are the common symptoms:
- Feeling cold
- Weight gain with poor appetite
- Decreased sweating
- Dry skin
- Muscle weakness and aches
- Decrease in heartbeat
- Increase in blood cholesterol
- Reduced memory and difficulty in concentrating
- Pain and stiffness in joints
- Hair loss
- Change in menstrual cycles or fertility-related difficulties
- Swollen and sensitive face
Weight gain and fatigue are the most evident symptoms of hypothyroidism. However, these conditions are usually common in aged people irrespective of their thyroid health.
Hence, it is very difficult to detect hypothyroidism at earlier stages without specific tests. This results in condition aggravation and complication in some cases.
Being untreated, the symptoms in many people increase slowly over many years. When the decrease in the thyroid hormone is more, the symptoms will increase and the problem may be easily diagnosed. Though some symptoms are common in old ages, still you need to consult a doctor. The doctor will recommend you to do a blood test to confirm if you have the disorder.
Causes and Triggers of Hypothyroidism
There are a number of causes of hypothyroidism. They may be an autoimmune disease termed as Hashimoto Disease, Adrenal gland failure, treatment for hyperthyroidism, radiation therapy, thyroid surgery, and certain medications.
Primary Risk Group
- Hypothyroidism usually affects the menopausal women and elderly, with age greater than 60 years.
- Women during pregnancy and new mothers are also at risk of the condition.
- People suffering from chronic stress are also at risk. High levels of stress can lead to the failure of adrenal gland, which stops responding to signals from the brain. This condition is commonly observed these days.
- Chemical pollutants may also trigger the condition at an earlier age.
- People residing in highlands, far from the sea, who are more prone to Iodine deficiency.
One type of inflammatory disorder occurs in the human body known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and it gives rise to hypothyroidism. This disease attacks the thyroid gland causing chronic thyroid inflammation. This problem decreases thyroid function.
Our immune system saves us from some harmful bacteria and viruses. Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system produces antibodies and these attack different body’s tissues including the thyroid gland. Sometimes, our body is confusing normal, healthy cells as invading cells. This is known as autoimmune response and if it is left untreated, the immune system may attack healthy tissues. This can cause hypothyroidism.
As a result of treatment for Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism (Excessive thyroid production) treatment is usually conducted via radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications to cut and normalize the thyroid production. In some cases, the medications may permanently affect the functioning of thyroid gland, leading to hypothyroidism.
Radiation therapy is given to treat cancers of the head and neck, lymphoma, and leukaemia. So it can affect your thyroid gland and may cause hypothyroidism.
In some cases, there is a necessity of removing the thyroid gland or a large part of it. This may reduce full or half hormone production. Therefore, you have to take the thyroid hormone and medication for entire life.
A lot of medications can lead to hypothyroidism. For example, lithium, which is given for certain psychiatric disorders.
Complications of Hypothyroidism
If left untreated, an under-active thyroid can lead to multiple health complications for body and brain. Here is a list of few:
Image Credit: Thyroid Centre of Santa Monica
Constant stimulation of your thyroid to release of hormones may make the gland too large. It is known as a goiter. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is one of the reasons behind goiter. The larger goiter does not feel uncomfortable, but it affects one’s appearance and may cause problems with swallowing and breathing.
Mental health issues
In early stages of hypothyroidism, depression occurs and it increases with over time. Sometimes, it leads to reduced mental functioning.
Hypothyroidism may also increase the risk of heart disease, primarily because of high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol or the “bad” cholesterol.
A mild or early form of hypothyroidism which does not show any symptoms, can increase the total cholesterol levels and decrease the pumping ability of the heart. It can also cause an enlarged heart and heart failure.
Long-term untreated hypothyroidism causes harm to peripheral nerves that transmit information from the brain and spinal cord to the different parts of the body.
The problems of peripheral neuropathy are pain, numbness and tingling in the particular area where the nerves get damaged. For example, muscle weakness or decrease in muscle control.
Infertility & Birth defects
Hypothyroidism can cause infertility. Babies born to Women with untreated thyroid disease may give birth to babies with defects than healthy mothers.
These children may have significant intellectual and developmental problems. Babies having untreated hypothyroidism during birth are more susceptible to serious problems with both physical and mental development.
It is an uncommon life-threatening disease and it is caused due to long-term, untreated hypothyroidism. Its signs and symptoms are poor ability to tolerate cold, drowsiness followed lethargy and unconsciousness. Myxedema may be triggered by infections, sedatives, and stress on the body.