Hypothyroidism Symptoms

Causes, symptoms, tests and treatment of hypothyroidism

When a person is diagnosed with hypothyroidism, it usually means they have lower than normal amounts of the thyroid hormones that should be found in the body.

The causes of the deficiency can be an abnormality of the thyroid gland itself, a severe dietary deficiency of iodine (often seen in countries like Zaire, Ecuador, India and Chile) or possibly a hereditary condition caused by chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. This condition is also called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, named after Dr. Hakaru Hashimoto who first described it in 1912.

Hashimoto's thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. This form of thyroiditis is the result of an autoimmune condition in which the patient's immune system attacks tissue within the tissues of the same body.

Women are 5 - 10 times more likely to develop Hashimoto's thyroiditis than men and often develop other immune conditions such as diabetes mellitus and vitamin B12 deficiencies. Studies show that one in ten women over the age of 65 will show early signs of hypothyroidism.

Mild cases of hypothyroidism may feel no ill effects but will actually feel better after being treated with thyroid hormone therapy. Studies that have shown patients with mild cases of the disease usually develop more severe cases of thyroid failure later in life.

The more severe cases of hypothyroidism can cause fatigue, depression, sluggishness and lack of interest in normally enjoyed activities. The patient may feel perpetually cold and tired. Other common symptoms are a dry, brittleness to the hair as well as itchiness and dryness of the skin. The patient my also suffer from gastrointestinal problems such as constipation or diarrhea as well as muscle cramps. Women may also have increased or irregular menstrual flow.

Strangely enough, hypothyroidism can even develop after treatment for hyperthyroidism (higher than normal amounts of thyroid hormone).

There are cases where "secondary hypothyroidism" is diagnosed. Secondary hypothyroidism is when the pituitary gland fails, most commonly because of a tumor. When the pituitary gland is involved, it stops stimulating the thyroid gland properly.

Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed by taking a blood sample, then testing it for the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) and the pituitary hormone TSH. If the thyroxine level is low or in the normal range but the TSH is high, the diagnosis is thyroid failure.



Once testing is done and the diagnosis of hypothyroidism is made, treatment is fairly simple. Routine therapy is a prescribed synthetic form of thyroxine. For many years dried and powdered animal thyroid was the most common form of thyroid therapy. It is seldom used now because the synthetic form can guarantee the potency and constant hormone levels in the bloodstream. The desiccated animal thyroid has often had a problem with variances in potency between batches.

When starting thyroid therapy, the doctor will usually prescribe a low level dosage and gradually increase it until the both the TSH and T4 levels are within normal range. This allows the body to become accustomed to the increased levels. Patients should be aware there have been problems with the generic forms of thyroxine's potency.

It takes a surprisingly little amount of thyroxine to treat a patient suffering from hypothyroidism. In fact dosage is measured in micrograms. It is important for the patient to take the synthetic hormone on a daily basis. It is also important that he or she have yearly thyroid functions tested because hypothyroidism can be an ongoing process requiring adjustments in the therapy levels. If the levels are off, various problems may occur.

If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and your medication levels aren't adequate, the above-mentioned symptoms don't disappear. Continued low levels of thyroid hormones have also been associated with elevations of cholesterol.

If your medication level is too high, you may suffer from the same symptoms as a hyperactive thyroid. These may include insomnia, excessive nervousness, heart palpitations and muscle tremors or trembling. There is the possibility of a secondary problem in taking a dosage of thyroxine that is too high. Excessive levels of thyroxine have been linked with excessive calcium loss in the bones. This calcium loss can in turn increase the risk of fractures.

In the cases where the pituitary gland is involved, medication may be required or even surgery if the problem is a tumor. The pituitary gland isn't just important because of its stimulation of the thyroid gland. It also affects the functions of most other glands of the body including the adrenal and reproductive glands.

As with any medication, any new doctors should be told of your condition, the brand of hormonal therapy and the dosage to make sure there are no drug interferences if new types of medications are prescribed. The new doctor will also be aware of the need for follow up monitoring of blood levels.

Since the most common type of hypothyroidism is inherited, it isn't at all uncommon for other members in a family to discover they have the condition once it has been diagnosed in another.

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