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Affecting approximately 10 million Americans, hypothyroidism is a condition where your body doesn't produce enough of the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Located in the lower portion of the front of the neck, the thyroid gland secretes these hormones that play a role in metabolism and growth. While anyone can have the condition, hypothyroidism is more common in women.

Hypothyroidism Causes

The most common cause of under-production of thyroid hormones is autoimmune disease. Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a disorder in which the body attacks its own tissues, is an example of one such condition that may contribute to hypothyroidism. An iodine deficiency or having had the thyroid gland removed for a prior condition may also cause hypothyroidism. Radiation therapy used to treat cancer and certain medications you may be taking to manage other conditions may also affect hormone production. Some women develop hypothyroidism during pregnancy.

Hypothyroidism Symptoms

Middle-aged and older women are most often affected by the condition, although it can also appear in infants or babies born with an improperly functioning thyroid gland or without a thyroid at all. The condition can be difficult to detect since symptoms often appear slowly over time. Hypothyroidism in children and teens may result in poor growth, delayed puberty, or poor mental development. Infants with the condition may have trouble feeding or issues with growth. Often involving a process of eliminating other possible issues, diagnosis will include an evaluation of symptoms, which may include:

  • Joint pain, stiffness, or swelling
  • General fatigue or lack of energy
  • Cold intolerance
  • Appetite changes or weight gain
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Cardiac anomalies
  • Thinning hair
  • Constipation
  • Treating Hypothyroidism

While treatment for hypothyroidism often involves simply taking a small pill each day, it's not always easy to manage the condition. Several factors, including underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, can also affect how hypothyroidism is treated and managed. Treatment often includes daily use of synthetic thyroid hormones such as Levothroid and Synthroid in the form of oral medications to restore normal hormone levels. These medications, which also lower cholesterol levels elevated by hypothyroidism, gradually reduce symptoms a few weeks after treatment begins, with patients often feeling less tired. The dosage may need to be adjusted over time.

Treatment Precautions

It's important to keep taking your hormone replacement medication even if your symptoms are gone. Doses shouldn't be skipped. Without any treatment, symptoms will gradually return. Adverse reactions, which are rare with most medications used to treat hypothyroidism, should be reported to your doctor. Certain foods and supplements, including iron supplements and multivitamins with iron, may also help manage hypothyroidism.

Millions of people may have hypothyroidism without realizing it. If you suspect that you may have the condition, an ear, nose and throat doctor can perform a thorough exam and perform the necessary tests to determine whether or not you have the condition. It's a disorder that often responds well to treatment, especially when detected early. Severe hypothyroidism requires immediate medical attention.