Hypothyroidism is a health condition characterized by an underactive thyroid gland. This condition makes it impossible for your thyroid gland to produce sufficient amount of important hormones in the body.
The thyroid gland is an important organ in your body, it is shaped like a butterfly and located at the base of your neck just below your esophagus.
This small organ is responsible for producing two important hormones that regulate the metabolism of the body and they carry out other important functions too.
The hormones the thyroid gland produce are the Tri-odothyronine hormone (TS3) and the thyroxine (TS4). Apart from regulating metabolism, other roles and functions they carry out are:
- Control the temperature of the body
- Affect your muscle strength
- Control the function of your nervous system and heart
- Affects skin type by controlling the production of sebum
- Controls respiration (breathing)
- Controls menstrual cycle
- Aids weight control
- Boosts brain development
- Controls the levels of cholesterol and many more
Your thyroid gland carries out these functions and many more and they it is underactive, all these functions would be affected and this would lead to a lot of complications in the body.
Signs and Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism usually begins as a silent condition, this means it does not show any sign or symptoms in the early stages. But over time, the symptoms will start getting obvious especially if it is untreated.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism vary and this depends on how severe the deficiency of thyroid hormones is. The first symptom of hypothyroidism is usually subtle and a lot of people mistaken it to be something else like stress or old age.
Fatigue and weight gain are the first symptoms but as time goes on other symptoms would develop slowly and become obvious. Your metabolism would slow down progressively and you will notice some of the following:
- Puffy face, hands, and feet
- Slow heart beat
- Pins and needles
- Thin hair
- Impaired memory
- Decreased sweating
- Muscle weakness
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
- Brittle fingernails
- Dry hair and hair loss
- Memory loss
- Delayed puberty in adolescents
- Hypercholesterolemia (high levels of cholesterol)
- Slow mental development in children and teenagers
- Delayed development of teeth in children and teenagers
- Poor growth and development in children and teenagers
- Muscle aches, stiffness and tenderness
- Hearing problems and even hearing loss
- Unexplained weight gain and difficulty losing weight
- Thinned or missing eyebrows
- Low sex drive
- Pains in the joints and swellings and stiffness
- Dry skin
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Frequent respiratory tract infections
- Very heavy menstruation or irregular menstruation
- Problems with coordination and balance
- Increased sensitivity to cold
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
There are many factors that can make this important gland fail in its functions and some of them are;
Treatments involving radiations like in the cancer of cancers can affect your thyroid gland especially if it is cancer of the head and neck.
This, in turn, can lead to hypothyroidism.
Disorder of the hypothalamus
The hypothalamus is a part of your brain that produces TRH hormones and when it is deficient in this function, hypothyroidism can occur.
The TRH hormone regulates the secretion of the TSH hormone from the pituitary gland. A disorder of the hypothalamus leads to an exceptional form of hypothyroidism.
Some medications can cause hypothyroidism, this include drugs used in treating psychiatric disorders such as lithium.
These drugs have negative side effects on the thyroid gland and they can cause hypothyroidism.
This is a condition characterized by the inflammation of the thyroid gland. When your thyroid gland in inflamed, thyroid hormones will leak into your bloodstream and skyrocket the amount of these hormones in your body.
After a month or two, this can lead to hyperthyroidism. Thyroiditis can be caused by a viral infection, autoimmune disease, bacterial infection, and even pregnancy.
Surgery on the thyroid gland
A surgical procedure carried out on your thyroid gland in which a large part or all your thyroid gland is removed can lead to hypothyroidism because the gland won’t be able to produce hormones.
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland and it is one of the causes of hypothyroidism. In this condition, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland and this will definitely affect its functions.
The triggers of autoimmune diseases are not yet known but a combination of factors like your genes and environmental toxins can play a role.
Oversensitivity to hyperthyroidism treatment
People who are treated for hyperthyroidism are given radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid drugs to reduce the excess production of thyroid hormones this condition causes.
These drugs are meant to correct the problem and restore the functions of the thyroid gland back to normal. However, in some cases, these drugs end up reducing the production of thyroid hormones below normal.
And this, in turn, would lead to permanent hypothyroidism.
Though a less common cause of hypothyroidism, some women do develop hypothyroidism during or after pregnancy. This type is known as post-partum hypothyroidism and it occurs when their immune systems produce antibodies to attack their own thyroid gland.
If this condition is not treated promptly, it can lead to preeclampsia (extremely high blood pressure in pregnant women), premature delivery, and even miscarriage.
This type of hypothyroidism usually happens during the last three months of pregnancy and it can affect the growing fetus.
Though a trace mineral, iodine is very important in the human body. Your body needs iodine to produce thyroid hormones, and too little of iodine in your body or a total deficiency of this important mineral can trigger hypothyroidism.
Iodine deficiency can also worsen the symptoms of hypothyroidism in people who already have it. In some parts of the world, iodine deficiency is a still a big problem.
A birth defect in which the thyroid gland is affected can lead to hypothyroidism. In some cases of birth defect, some babies are delivered with completely missing thyroid gland or a defective one.
The cause of this is not yet known, it can be inherited or the thyroid gland will not develop normally. Infants affected by congenital hypothyroidism look normal at birth and that’s why in some parts of the world, it is mandatory to screen infants for thyroid problems.
Hypothyroidism can occur when the pituitary gland is unable to produce sufficient amount of the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
A benign tumor in the pituitary gland can cause this condition.
What Happens When Hypothyroidism is Left Untreated?
Untreated hypothyroidism can lead to a lot of complications in the body. This includes infertility, obesity, joint pains, heart disease, etc.
Acute thyroid tests are used to diagnose hypothyroidism and it is advisable for treatment to begin immediately. Some of the health complications untreated hypothyroidism causes are:
This is the first noticeable effect of hypothyroidism, this condition is characterized by the enlargement of the thyroid gland.
Although it does not cause discomfort or pain, it affects one’s appearance. It can also affect your ability to swallow food or even breathe properly.
Hypothyroidism raises one’s risk of heart disease and heart failure because it increases the levels of bad cholesterol.
This bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) causes strokes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and other chronic diseases.
Women suffering from hypothyroidism have high risks of giving birth to children with birth defects especially if the condition is untreated.
Their babies are susceptible to severe developmental and intellectual problems and they also have serious problems with physical and mental development.
The chances of recovery are high in babies affected by hypothyroidism and the can also develop normally when the condition is diagnosed early and treated promptly.
This is most effective when it happens within the first few months of life.
This condition is rare but it can occur when hypothyroidism is not treated. This lethal condition is characterized by unconsciousness, profound lethargy, intense tolerance to cold, and drowsiness.
A coma can also occur and it can be produced by sedatives, infections, or stress. If you have hypothyroidism and feel any of the above conditions, you have to seek for medical help immediately.
Low levels of thyroid hormones can affect ovulation and this, in turn, would affect fertility.
This is a condition characterized by damaged nerves and it can be caused by chronic or untreated hypothyroidism.
The transmission of information from the brain and spinal cord is affected in this condition and it comes along with undesirable symptoms such as tingling and numbness in the part of the body that is affected, and also pains.
This is an early symptom of hypothyroidism, and the most common mental problem that occurs is hypothyroidism. This can get worse overtime as the disease progresses.
Hypothyroidism decreases mental functions.
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid); Mayo Clinic
- Hypothyroidism; WebMD
- Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid); NIH
- Celiac Disease and Autoimmune Thyroid Disease; NCBI