The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck. It produces hormones that govern the way the body uses energy. One such hormone is simply called the thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone. This condition is most common in women over 60.
What Are the Symptoms?
Hypothyroidism can cause a variety of symptoms, including the following:
• Dry skin and brittle nails
• Inability to tolerate cold
• Depression, fatigue and/or weakness
• Irregular or heavy menstrual period
• Difficulty thinking clearly
• Memory problems
• Thinning hair
• Weight gain
• Puffy face
The symptoms develop slowly, and some patients mistake them for signs of normal aging. Untreated hypothyroidism can cause high cholesterol levels, obesity, joint pain and heart disease. In extreme cases, this becomes a potentially fatal condition called myxedema. If a woman with untreated hypothyroidism gets pregnant, it could harm her baby.
Hypothyroidism is fairly easy to diagnose. Our doctor will first conduct a physical exam. He will then perform a blood test to check the patient’s hormone levels.
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
In the United States, the most common cause is an immune system disorder called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Also known as Hashimoto’s disease or chronic autoimmune thyroiditis, it occurs when the immune system attacks and eventually destroys the thyroid gland. The condition does not cause pain, and it can therefore go unnoticed for years. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is sometimes associated with Addison’s disease, type 1 diabetes, pernicious anemia, rheumatoid arthritis and premature menopause.
In many other countries, especially less developed ones, iodine deficiency is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. In the United States and other Western countries, iodine is routinely added to salt, water and some foods to prevent this.
Surgery involving the removal of part or all of the thyroid gland also causes hypothyroidism. Such surgery might be performed in cases of thyroid cancer, overactive or cancerous thyroid nodules, hyperthyroidism or goiter. The last is a condition caused by an enlarged thyroid gland that can impair the patient’s ability to swallow.
Radiation therapy, which is used to treat cancer, can cause hypothyroidism, for the radiation used destroys the thyroid gland. Similarly, radioactive iodine therapy, which is used in hyperthyroidism treatments, can also harm or destroy the thyroid gland.
Some bacterial and viral infections can temporarily damage the thyroid gland. In such cases, the patient’s hormone levels typically revert to normal after the infection has cleared.
Some medications can also affect the production of thyroid hormone. Lithium, which is used to treat some psychiatric disorders, is a common example. Interferon alfa, like Roferon A or Intron A, and amiodarone, like Pacerone or Cordarone, can also cause hypothyroidism.
How Is It Treated?
The most common treatment for hypothyroidism is medications that contain synthetic thyroid hormone. The patient generally takes the medicine every day, and its effects start to become noticeable a week or two after the treatment begins. To learn more about the treatment options for hypothyroidism, set up a consultation at Innovative Medicine in Lafayette. Our team of experts will be happy to evaluate your unique situation and then come up with a treatment plan that is perfect for you. Contact our office today to schedule your appointment.