A deficiency in thyroid hormone production by the thyroid gland leads to hypothyroidism. Also called an underactive thyroid disease, it can get very difficult to live with the condition at times, but overall a manageable disease that can be helped with treatment.
The hormones that the thyroid produces help regulate your metabolism and determine energy use for most of the organs in the human body. As a result, low levels of these types of hormones can cause a wide range of health conditions, including mental and digestive issues.
What causes it?
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland gets inflamed due to immune system problems. A damaged thyroid might not make enough hormones for the body to work well. This failure can be caused by an autoimmune disease or even by surgeries to treat thyroid cancer.
So, hypothyroidism can happen while people are dealing with other health issues. For instance, iodine treatment for goiter kills part of the thyroid to stop the goiter from growing more. Sometimes, the thyroid gland is okay, but the pituitary gland, which tells the thyroid what to do, isn’t working right.
Iodine deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism, but typically, insufficient salt in one’s diet isn’t the main cause of the condition. Most people consume enough salt daily to prevent hypothyroidism. In reality, excessive salt intake is more common and can result in other health issues. This is why you shouldn’t take iodine supplements yourself without a doctor’s advice.
What are the symptoms?
We’ve talked about why hypothyroidism happens; now, let’s look at some common symptoms. Hypothyroidism signs can develop slowly and get worse as the thyroid makes fewer hormones over time.
Typical hypothyroidism symptoms are:
- Feeling cold easily
- Gaining weight
- Hair loss
- Feeling down
- Muscle pain, cramps, and weakness
- Moving or having a slow heart rate
- Memory problems
- Dry, flaky skin
- Weak hair and nails
- Low interest in sex
- Slow growth in children
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Irregular or heavy periods
If you think you are being bothered by these, it’s time to cross-check with a doctor. Since many underactive thyroid symptoms look like those in other health issues, it can be hard to diagnose hypothyroidism.
Your doctor will do a blood test to check if your thyroid is working well. They might also test for an autoimmune thyroid problem. Based on your situation and test results, you could be sent to a hormone specialist for treatment.
How is it treated?
To treat an underactive thyroid, you’ll need medication that helps balance your hormone levels. Your doctor will choose the right treatment based on your specific hormone needs.
Each medicine provides different hormones in different amounts. Your doctor will keep an eye on your hormone levels to make sure you’re getting the right dose.
When taking thyroid hormones, remember they stay in your system all day and shouldn’t be taken with food, as it can affect how well they’re absorbed. There are several thyroid replacement therapy options, such as:
- Cytomel (Liothyronine)
- Synthroid or Tirosint (Levothyroxine)
- Nature-Throid or Thyroid Armour (Desiccated Thyroid)
What are some lifestyle changes for managing it?
Natural and over-the-counter remedies can help balance thyroid hormone levels. Supplements like Selenium, vitamin D, and probiotics may ease symptoms when hypothyroidism occurs.
However, talk to your doctor before taking any supplements, as they might interfere with ongoing hypothyroidism treatments. A balanced, healthy diet with colorful fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is the best way to address a thyroid hormone imbalance.
Avoid high-fiber foods and those containing soy, as they may disrupt the absorption of thyroid hormone medication. A gluten-free and sugar-free diet can also help reduce symptoms when hypothyroidism is present.
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