Fatigue. Energy loss. Depression. Weight gain. Unusual memory lapses. Hair loss. Pinning down the cause of these symptoms can be difficult, but there’s one culprit that often goes overlooked at first: the thyroid gland. These are just a few of the underactive thyroid symptoms that affects around 5 percent of the Australian population, particularly older women. It’s among the most common problems that can develop with the thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland is a small organ, shaped like a butterfly, in the base of the throat. It’s a member of the endocrine system, which includes the adrenal glands, the pituitary gland and the pineal gland. These organs work together to prevent the body’s internal systems from falling out of balance.
Specifically, the thyroid is responsible for regulating aspects of the body’s protein creation, metabolism and energy use. It does this by producing two key hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine. A third critical hormone, calcitonin, keeps the amount of calcium in the blood from rising too high.
Do you have underactive thyroid symptoms?
Underactive thyroid symptoms develop because the thyroid gland stops secreting sufficient amounts of triiodothyronine and thyroxine. Hypothyroidism is one of several disorders of the thyroid.
Causes of an underactive thyroid
An underactive thyroid may develop when the immune system, which normally fights infection, attacks the thyroid gland. This impairs thyroid function, which means it is not able to make enough thyroid hormone and leads to the symptoms of an underactive thyroid. A condition called Hashimoto’s disease is the most common type of autoimmune problem that causes an underactive thyroid. It is not clear what causes Hashimoto’s disease, but this condition runs in families.
Previous thyroid treatment
An underactive thyroid can also occur as a side effect or complication of previous treatment to the thyroid gland, such as surgery or radioactive iodine therapy. These treatments are usually done to remove cancerous growths, to remove goitres, or to manage hyperthyroidism, the opposite condition to hypothyroidism.
In hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, the thyroid is overstimulated and secretes too much thyroxine and triiodothyronine. This can result in symptoms affecting mood, energy, sleep and appetite, among others. It’s typically caused by an autoimmune condition known as Graves’ disease.
Hyperthyroidism, as well as cancers and goitres, are sometimes treated with surgery to remove some, or all, of the thyroid. A total thyroidectomy, or removal of the entire gland, will always result in underactive thyroid symptoms. A partial thyroidectomy may or may not result in hypothyroidism.
Worldwide, a lack of dietary iodine is a common cause of an underactive thyroid because your body needs iodine to make thyroxine.
A number of factors can lead the thyroid to stop producing the amounts of triiodothyronine and thyroxine the body needs. A problem with the pituitary gland could lead to an underactive thyroid. The pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain and regulates the thyroid. Therefore, damage to the pituitary may lead to an underactive thyroid. An underactive thyroid has also been linked to some viral infections or some medications used to treat other conditions, such as depression. Pregnancy, certain medical problems and long-term lithium use can also lead to hypothyroidism. Congenital problems can cause it too, though that’s very rare.
Underactive thyroid is a chronic condition, but it is treatable. Daily thyroid hormone replacement medication is the usual therapy.
But before this can happen, you need to make sure you have the right diagnosis. Thyroid disease is easily mistaken for other conditions, from depression to chronic fatigue. Make sure your doctor is fully aware of all your symptoms, all your other conditions, your medications, and any other information that can help determine whether you suffer from an underactive thyroid.
If you have questions or concerns about thyroid problems see your local doctor who will arrange for you to see a thyroid surgeon.