Hypothyroidism is an endocrine health condition seen in about 5% of the United States population, which equates to about 10 million people currently living with the condition. This is not to be confused with hyperthyroidism, which is a different illness.
This statement is referring to the difference between hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is a different illness that is caused by an overactive thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, is a condition that is caused by an underactive thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland is located in the front of the neck, just below the thyroid cartilage (the Adam’s apple). It is about an inch and a half in length and weighs about an ounce.
Because the thyroid gland plays a critical role in the function of many organs in the body, particularly the heart, it’s essential to understand what it means to have a dysfunctional thyroid and how the condition is treated. It’s also helpful to understand your risk of having this problem.
In what follows, we’ll be detailing what hypothyroidism is, what causes it, and how individuals who have the condition are treated. We will also discuss the various risk factors for hypothyroidism.
Characteristics of Hypothyroidism
Otherwise known as underactive thyroid disease, hypothyroidism is a condition that impacts the thyroid gland leading to insufficient production of thyroid hormones. Since the thyroid gland plays such a critical role in the normal function of the body, a dysfunctional thyroid can result in several problems that lead to various signs and symptoms.
The thyroid gland produces the hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine (T3), which increase metabolism in the body. Some of the effects of these hormones are increased heart rate, increased blood flow, and increased blood pressure. Conversely, when the thyroid produces less of these hormones, such as in the condition of hypothyroidism, the effects seen are fatigue, tiredness, decreased heart rate and cardiac output, and an overall decrease in body metabolism.
Hypothyroidism becomes more prevalent as individuals age. It also is more common in individuals with a family history of this condition.
There are three general types of hypothyroidism categorized by severity level, maturity of the condition, and the root cause of hormonal imbalance. The three types of hypothyroidism are as follows:
I. Subclinical (Primary) Hypothyroidism
II. Central (Secondary) Hypothyroidism
III. Hypothalamic (Tertiary) Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is easily treatable and manageable in most cases, with all treatment options being both safe, effective, and efficacious.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
The potential causes of thyroid hormone imbalance are autoimmune disorders, certain medications, and environmental exposures. As the condition progresses, many complications can develop, such as nerve damage, impaired kidney function, abnormal heartbeat, and body temperature fluctuations.
The following is a summarized list of the several potential causes of hypothyroidism.
Potential Causes of Hypothyroidism:
• Iodine Imbalance
• Pharmaceutical Drugs
• Environmental Exposure to Toxins
• Radioiodine Therapy
• External Neck Irradiation
Diseases That Cause Hypothyroidism:
• Chronic Autoimmune Thyroiditis Disease (Hashimoto’s Disease)
• Iatrogenic Disease
• Infiltrative Disease
Other potential issues that can lead to hypothyroidism include decreased secretion of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from the pituitary gland or thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) from the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus is responsible for releasing hormones that stimulate the pituitary gland to produce other hormones. These hormones control many important body functions, such as growth, reproduction, and metabolism. The hypothalamus is a complex area of the brain that plays a vital role in hormone production and regulation. Regarding thyroid function, the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland to release thyroid-stimulating hormone, which causes the thyroid gland to produce thyroxine.
It is a complex mechanism of positive and negative feedback that regulates hormone production by the thyroid gland. Thyroxine produced by the thyroid also acts through a negative feedback loop to control the release of thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) by the hypothalamus.
Complications of Hypothyroidism
One of the complications of hypothyroidism is a condition called myxedema that is characterized by lethargy, edema of the face and tongue, heart enlargement, hypothermia, and bowel obstruction. In severe cases, a stuporous state called myxedema coma can develop. This complication will require rapid treatment with levothyroxine and glucocorticoid therapy.
Evaluation for Hypothyroidism
The development of symptoms of lack of energy, muscle weakness, and weight gain should prompt a visit to see a primary care physician to be evaluated for hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland can be enlarged or can have palpable nodules in various conditions. For example, in Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the thyroid is quite firm to palpation. Examination and evaluation with lab testing of thyroid hormone levels will be diagnostic for hypothyroidism.
Treatment for Hypothyroidism
While hypothyroidism is treatable and manageable in most instances, it is a permanent condition requiring persistent, lifelong treatment. Moreover, thyroid disease cannot be prevented, but long-term treatment and management are quite successful.
By treating hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland improves to normal homeostatic function, which repairs hormonal imbalances and improves symptomatology.
The treatment of hypothyroidism is with oral thyroid hormone replacement medication. The most commonly prescribed treatment for hypothyroidism is levothyroxine, a thyroid-specific drug used as a manufactured replacement for the thyroid hormone thyroxine.
Hypothyroidism is a common health condition that can develop with age due to the natural fluctuations of the thyroid gland. This occurs when the gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, which can cause a wide range of symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, and hair loss. While the condition can be treated with medication, it’s important to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms. The condition must be treated to avoid potential complications.
Early treatment of hypothyroidism results in an excellent quality of life and has an excellent long-term outlook.