What is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition that occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of the hormone thyroxine (or T4). This is also known as having an underactive thyroid.
Hypothyroidism is a different condition to hyperthyroidism. With hypothyroidism the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones, whereas with hyperthyroidism (also known as overactive thyroid) the gland produces more than the body needs.
Hypothyroidism occurs most commonly in women, particularly those between the ages of 40 and 50. Women are 10 times more likely to have the condition than men. It often occurs around the same time as menopause, meaning the symptoms can often be overlooked or attributed to menopause instead.
What are the signs hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism symptoms often appear gradually over time, which means it may take you a while to notice them. Since they are similar to the symptoms of other conditions and illnesses, an underactive thyroid can often be overlooked. Underactive thyroid symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Being sensitive to the cold
- Dry skin and hair
- Achy / crampy / weak muscles
- Dry / scaly skin
- Brittle hair and nails
- Loss of sex drive
- Irregular or heavy periods
- Pain / numbness / tingling in the hands and fingers
If you are experiencing these symptoms, your GP can do a thyroid function blood test to check if hypothyroidism is what you’re suffering from.
What causes hypothyroidism?
Much of the time, hypothyroidism is caused by the immune system attacking and damaging the thyroid gland. It is also caused by damage resulting from treatments for thyroid cancer or an overactive thyroid. Some of the main causes of an underactive thyroid include:
- An autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s disease
- Pituitary or hypothalamic failure
- Genetic dysfunction
- Thyroid surgery or radioactive iodine treatment
Treatment for hyperthyroidism
How can you treat hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism treatment comes in the form of hormone replacement tablets such as Levothyroxine (sometimes known as Levothyroxine Sodium).
Not treating an underactive thyroid can lead to complications including heart disease, goitre and problems during pregnancy. Very rarely it can also lead to a life threatening condition called myxoedema coma.
What can you do to help prevent hypothryroidism?
There’s no way of preventing thyroid problems such as hypothyroidism. Hormone treatments can help you to manage your condition, but there’s no way of preventing it occurring in the first place.