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June 14, 2017 | Family Medicine • Internal Medicine
The thyroid is a gland located in the lower front part of your neck, and it releases hormones that affect virtually every part of the body from metabolism and temperature regulation to heartbeat and how well your body burns calories. Without enough thyroid hormone—a condition known as hypothyroidism (or underactive thyroid)—several of these processes will slow down.
Hypothyroidism upsets the typical balance of chemical reactions, and over time, it can lead to several health issues if left untreated. Fortunately, there are accurate tests to diagnose hypothyroidism and safe and effective treatments for it.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism vary depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency, but they generally develop slowly over a period of years. Symptoms often begin very mildly and develop further as your metabolism slows. Symptoms can include:
In infants, other symptoms to look for can include:
Even mild cases of hypothyroidism can lead to severe physical and mental retardation in infants. Complications of untreated cases in adults include goiter, heart problems, mental health issues, peripheral neuropathy, myxedema (long-term, undiagnosed hypothyroidism that can be life-threatening), infertility and birth defects.
There are a number of possible factors that cause the thyroid to not produce enough hormones. Some of the most common include:
In rarer cases, hypothyroidism can be caused by:
Anyone can develop hypothyroidism, but there are a few factors that make it more likely:
Hypothyroidism is diagnosed using a blood test called the TSH test, which is very sensitive and can often pick up the condition before symptoms are even noticeable.
Standard treatment for hypothyroidism involves daily use of a synthetic hormone called levothyroxine, which restores hormone levels and reverses symptoms. These treatments cause virtually no side effects when used in the proper dosages—though finding these dosages can take a bit of time in some cases. Certain supplements, medications and foods might limit the body’s ability to process levothyroxine, and your doctor will talk to you about these if necessary.
If you’re showing the signs of hypothyroidism, your doctor will inform you on the appropriate course for diagnosis and treatment.
“Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothyroidism/home/ovc-20155291
“Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid).” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/women/hypothyroidism-underactive-thyroid-symptoms-causes-treatments#1
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.