The thyroid is a gland responsible for the control of your body’s metabolism. This gland produces triiodothyronine, also known as T3 and tetraiodothyronine, also called T4, hormones. These hormones work together to regulate the way your body cells utilise energy.
If you have hypothyroidism, it means that your thyroid gland is not making enough of the necessary hormone. Low levels of this hormone will interfere with your body’s ability to normally perform metabolic functions including using energy from food efficiently, and maintaining healthy muscles, cells and bones.
As far as hypothyroidism is concerned, there is no prevention known, and no cure. If you have hypothyroidism, you will have it your entire life.
Causes of hypothyroidism
The causes that are the most common include radiation treatment, autoimmune diseases and the surgery by which your thyroid is removed. Hypothyroidism can also be a consequence of radiation treatment for cancer of the neck or head or Hodgkin lymphoma. If this injures the thyroid gland, it will not be able to produce sufficient hormone for your metabolism to keep running smoothly. In addition, treatment with radioactive iodine for thyroid cancer or Grave’s disease can cause hypothyroidism.
Autoimmune diseases like Graves’ disease cause antibodies to be produced that actually attack the thyroid gland. Autoimmune thyroiditis may develop over a period of a few years, or it may appear suddenly. This is more common in women than men. The most commonly found types are atrophic thyroiditis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Thyroid Gland Removal
Surgery to remove the thyroid may be deemed necessary if you have tumours in the gland or hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism occurs when the entire thyroid gland has been removed. Children may be born without thyroid glands or theirs may not properly function.
Autoimmune or viral thyroiditis occurs when viruses or antibodies attack the thyroid gland, which can cause leakage of thyroid hormones. Sometimes these are released into the bloodstream all at once. When this occurs, symptoms of hyperthyroidism or thyroid excess occur.
Are there other causes for hypothyroidism?
Your thyroid gland requires iodine in order for it to manufacture T3 and T4. Iodine is usually obtained from your diet. If you don’t have enough iodine in your system, this can cause hypothyroidism. Ironically, if you have too much iodine, it may block your thyroid gland’s ability to make the thyroid hormone.
A disease like amyloidosis may cause the thyroid gland to be overwhelmed by proteins which are abnormal, In this situation the thyroid cells will not function properly.
Your pituitary gland signals to your thyroid gland the amount of hormones it should produce. If the pituitary is damaged through tumour, stroke or trauma, these signals may stop. This will cause your thyroid to stop manufacturing its essential hormone.
Medications like interleukin 2 and lithium are prescribed for other health issues and they can cause hypothyroidism. This occurs more often in people whose genetic tendencies trend towards autoimmune disease of the thyroid.
What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?
There are typically no symptoms that point only to hypothyroidism, and not to other possible diseases, as well. Early in the process, there may be no symptoms at all. If hypothyroidism is left untreated, it may cause infertility, heart disease, joint pain and obesity. Other long-term hypothyroid symptoms may include:
- Increased cold sensitivity
- Weakness or fatigue
- Brittle nails and hair
- Heavier flow during menstruation
If hypothyroidism is not treated, then other symptoms may occur, including:
- Puffiness of feet, hands and face
- Decreased senses of smell or taste
- Slowing of speech
- Thickening of the skin
- Thinning eyebrows
- Coma (known as Myxedema coma)
How is hypothyroidism treated?
One common treatment is thyroid hormone replacement therapy. This treatment acts to replace the thyroid hormone which your thyroid has stopped making. A synthetic thyroid hormone known as levothyroxine is most often prescribed. This is affordable and safe, but the proper dosage may take some time to determine. The goal is returning your metabolic rate to normal.