You should never delay getting treatment when you notice any of the symptoms of hypothyroidism. The sooner you talk to your doctor and find out if the symptoms you are experiencing are caused by a thyroid condition the better. Getting prompt treatment will decrease the severity of the symptoms of hypothyroidism which may get worse as the disease progresses. These symptoms can create other, more serious conditions if left undiagnosed.
Many of the signs of hypothyroidism are common problems by themselves. It is a good idea to consult your doctor even if you only experience one of the possible conditions associated with thyroid disease. However, if you are showing more than one of the symptoms you should immediately seek a doctor’s advice.
Initial Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
In most cases the very first sign that you may have an underactive thyroid are fatigue and weight gain. If you take a good, honest look at your lifestyle and weight gain does not make sense, go to the doctor. Catching hypothyroidism at this point can curtail the other symptoms of thyroid, or keep them from becoming severe over time.
Other Common Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Any of the following conditions together and / or in conjunction with the fatigue and weight gain above are a strong signal that there are thyroid issues going on in your body.
Sensitivity to cold
Dry or itchy skin
Slow heart rate
Muscle pain or tenderness
Joint pain and stiffness
Memory problems or difficulty concentrating
- Skin changes and pretibial myxoedema
Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone to meet your body’s needs. Hypothyroidism may be due to a number of factors, including:
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system produces antibodies that attack your own tissues. Sometimes this process involves the thyroid gland. These antibodies affect the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones.
Some babies are born with a defective thyroid gland or no thyroid gland. In most cases it is not possible to identify why the thyroid gland didn’t develop normally. However, some children have an inherited form of the disorder. Often, infants with congenital hypothyroidism appear normal at birth. That’s one reason why the Guthrie’s heel prick newborn test is performed – for thyroid screening.
The trace mineral iodine — found primarily in seafood, seaweed, plants grown in iodine-rich soil and iodized salt — is essential for the production of thyroid hormones. Worldwide iodine deficiency is common, and remains the most common cause of hypothyroidism. The addition of iodine to table salt has virtually eliminated this problem in Australia and in other developed nations.
Medication induced hypothyroidism
A number of medications can contribute to hypothyroidism. One such medication is lithium, which is used to treat certain psychiatric disorders. If you’re taking medication, ask your doctor about its effect on your thyroid gland.
A relatively rare cause of hypothyroidism is the failure of the pituitary gland to produce enough thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) — usually this is because of a benign tumor of the pituitary gland.
Pregnancy associated hypothyroidism
Some women develop hypothyroidism during or after pregnancy (postpartum hypothyroidism), often because they produce antibodies to their own thyroid gland. Left untreated, hypothyroidism increases the risk of miscarriage, premature delivery and preeclampsia — a condition that causes a significant rise in a woman’s blood pressure during the last three months of pregnancy. It can also seriously affect the developing fetus.
Sheehan’s Syndrome is hypopituitarism (decreased functioning of the pituitary gland), caused by ischaemic necrosis due to blood loss and hypovolemic shock during and after childbirth. It is a rare complication of pregnancy, usually occurring after excessive blood loss. The most common initial symptoms of Sheehan’s syndrome are agalactorrhea (absence of lactation) and / or difficulties with lactation. Many women also report amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea after delivery.
In some cases, a woman with Sheehan syndrome might be relatively asymptomatic, and the diagnosis is not made until years later, with features of hypopituitarism. Such features include secondary hypothyroidism with tiredness, intolerance to cold, constipation, weight gain, hair loss and slowed thinking, as well as a slowed heart rate and low blood pressure.
Irradiation used to treat cancers of the head and neck affect the thyroid gland and may lead to hypothyroidism.
Removing all or a large portion of the thyroid gland for the treatment of diseases such as multinodular goitre or thyroid cancer will render a hypothyroid state. In that situation, thyroid hormone replacement therapy will be needed for life.
Treatment for hyperthyroidism
People who produce too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) are often treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications to reduce and normalize their thyroid function. However, in some cases the treatment for hyperthyroidism can result in permanent hypothyroidism.
Why Treat the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Since the early signs of hypothyroidism are so common some people may not feel an urgency to seek treatment. Many are unaware of the more severe problems that can be created by hypothyroidism, so they aren’t afraid of it. The symptoms of hypothyroidism itself are hard on the system over time, however. Issues relating to hypothyroidism can have serious consequences.
When left untreated hypothyroidism may result in myxoedema crisis – also known as ‘myxoedema coma’. Myxoedema crisis is the extreme manifestation of hypothyroidism. It is a rare, but potentially fatal disorder. It does not necessarily involve the presence of pretibial oedema or of coma. Myxoedema crisis can be difficult to diagnose and successfully treat.
In a patient who has untreated or undertreated hypothyroidism several physiological changes take place to compensate for the lack of thyroid activity. This ability of the body to compensate for deficiency of thyroid hormones may, however, be overwhelmed by infection, drugs, other diseases or hypothermia, which may lead to the crisis state developing rapidly. Even if promptly treated it has a mortality of 50%.
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a condition where your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone.
- Women, especially those older than 60 years of age, are more likely to develop hypothyroidism. Whilst often unrecognised in the early stages, over time, untreated hypothyroidism can cause a number of health problems, such as obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease.
- The good news is that accurate thyroid function tests are available to diagnose hypothyroidism. The treatment of hypothyroidism with thyroid hormone replacement therapy is usually simple, safe and effective once you and your doctor find the right dose for you.
If you have questions or concerns about thyroid problems see your local doctor who will arrange for you to see a thyroid surgeon.