Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid is a condition that typically effects women over the age of 50, but can also be found in various age groups and both genders. Hypothyroidism wreaks havoc on the normal chemical reactions of the body and affects your metabolism. In the early stages, there are rarely any symptoms. However, if left untreated, it can cause various health problems, including obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease.
On the plus side, there are thyroid function tests available to diagnose and treat hypothyroidism. Synthetic thyroid hormones are typically simple, safe, and effective. It may take several months for you and your doctor to work together to figure out the correct dosage.
There are a wide variety of signs and symptoms and it depends on how severe the hormone deficiency is. These may include fatigue, sluggishness, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, pale, dry skin, a puffy face, hoarse voice, elevated blood cholesterol, unexplained weight gain, muscle aches (tenderness and stiffness), pain (stiffness or swelling in the joints), muscle weakness, heavier than normal menstrual periods, brittle fingernails and hair, and depression. If left untreated, these signs and symptoms can slowly become more severe. How do you know when to see your doctor? If you feel tired for no reason or experience dry skin, a pale, puffy face, constipation, or a hoarse voice.
Causes of hypothyroidism include autoimmune disease (i.e. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), treatment for hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid), radiation therapy, thyroid surgery, medications (i.e. lithium), congenital disease, pituitary disorder (pituitary gland fails to produce enough thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)), pregnancy, and iodine deficiency (iodine is necessary for the production of thyroid hormones).
Risk factors for this disorder include women 50 years of age or older, an autoimmune disorder, a close relative (i.e. parent or grandparent) that was diagnosed, treatment with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications, you received radiation to your neck or upper chest or you have had thyroid surgery (partial thyroidectomy). There are complications that accompany untreated hypothyroidism and they are goiter (enlarged thyroid), heart problems, mental health issues (i.e. depression, slowed mental functioning), peripheral neuropathy (i.e. pain, numbness, tingling), myxedema (intense cold intolerance, drowsiness, lethargy, unconsciousness), infertility (ovulation effected), and birth defects.
If a diagnosis of hypothyroidism is made by your doctor, than you will probably be put on a medication called levothyroxine (generic). Levothyroxine causes practically no side effects and is fairly inexpensive. It is important to evaluate your diet because certain foods and supplements might affect your ability to absorb levothyroxine. Foods and supplements that affect absorption of levothyroxine include iron supplements, calcium supplements, aluminum hydroxide (antacids), soy products or a high-fiber diet.