Because hypothyroidism leads to lower levels of regulating hormones, there are many possible symptoms associated with this condition. The effects of hypothyroidism are often indistinguishable from other conditions due to their ambiguity. The general signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Digestion issues like constipation
- Unexplained weight gain
- Depression or emotional instability
- Slow heart rate
- Joint pain or swelling
- General fatigue and muscle weakness
- Elevated cholesterol
- Cold sensitivity
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Thyroid swelling
There are several different classifications of hypothyroidism.
Primary hypothyroidism. In this stage, the thyroid is the source of the issue. It is being stimulated properly by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, but it cannot produce enough thyroid hormone for your body to function properly.
Secondary hypothyroidism. Here, the thyroid gland is capable of functioning normally, but the pituitary gland is not stimulating it properly. In this case, the pituitary gland is not working as it should.
Tertiary hypothyroidism. Like secondary hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland is able to function normally, but another regulator, the hypothalamus, does not secrete enough thyroid releasing hormone (TRH). This then causes the pituitary gland to underproduce thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which in turn under-stimulates the thyroid.
Age. As a person grows older, they become more susceptible to preemptive conditions. Studies show that older people tend to have higher rates of hypothyroidism than younger individuals do.
Sex. Hypothyroidism is more common in women than it is in men. Past research indicates that hypothyroidism affects 2 in 100 women and 2 in 1,000 men.
Family history. Though there is no single gene that indicates whether a person develops hypothyroidism or not, it can run in the family. People who have immediate family members who were diagnosed with hypothyroidism may be at greater risk for developing it themselves.
Autoimmune disorders. An autoimmune disorder is one that attacks your own body’s immune system. The thyroid can become affected if it’s viewed as a target by your body. The most common autoimmune disease that contributes to hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Anti-thyroid medication. If you were once treated for hyperthyroidism with medications meant to slow down the rate of hormone production of the thyroid, your thyroid may have slowed down to the extent where it is no longer generating normal levels of thyroid hormones either.
Thyroid surgery. Any type of surgery on the thyroid can affect its production of hormones. Typical surgeries that can lead to hypothyroidism include tumor or nodule removal.
Radiation. Radiation is the transmission of energy, often received from cancer treatment or exposure to excess x-rays. If radiation was targeted in the upper body or neck area, the thyroid could have been affected.
If you suspect an issue with your thyroid and are experiencing a combination of the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, see your doctor. Share your medical history with them, along with your symptoms, potential causes of your suspected illness, and a list of your current medications if applicable. Being open about your social and medical history can ensure your doctor can diagnose you properly. To be diagnosed with hypothyroidism, the following tests are typically required:
Medical history. The first step towards a diagnosis starts with analyzing past conditions, concerns, or behaviors put forth in your medical history. This is largely circumstantial, as personal experiences can often indicate what tests cannot. Doctors will typically focus on your general state of health, family history, past surgeries, and current medications.
Physical examination. The significance of a physical examination is to identify visual signs of hypothyroidism. Doctors will look for signs of dry skin, swelling, slower reflexes, and a lower than normal heartrate.
Blood test. The determining factor of hypothyroidism is found in blood testing. Two different tests, a TSH test and a T4 test are used.
- TSH tests identify the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone in the blood. It indicates how much T4, or thyroxine, the thyroid is encouraged to produce by the hypothalamus. Abnormally high TSH could signify hypothyroidism.
- T4 tests show actual thyroxine levels. Low T4 levels of T4 could indicate hypothyroidism.
While other illnesses often have multiple treatment options, there is only one typical treatment option for hypothyroidism: thyroid hormone replacement. Thyroid hormone replacement is prescribed as a pure synthetic form of T4. This medication is generically known as levothyroxine and is only available through prescription. Common brands include synthroid, levoxyl, tirosint, and unithroid. There are rarely any side effects of this prescription drug, as the medication acts identically to the natural form of your body’s thyroid hormone.
Alternative Treatments and Home Remedies
Other than medication, there are alternative methods and home remedies to treat the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism. They include:
Selenium. Studies indicate that selenium, a trace element, could have a correlation to T4 levels. This element could play a role in maintaining balance of the thyroid hormones. Selenium can be found naturally in foods like tuna, turkey, and grass-fed beef.
Vitamin B. Though vitamin B doesn’t statistically show improvement of hypothyroidism itself, this vitamin is known to support thyroid health. By taking vitamin B, the thyroid could help ease some tension on your thyroid. Supplements, or natural B-vitamins in foods like dairy products, sesame seeds, and beans, can provide your body with vitamin B.
Sugar-free diet. One common effect of sugar in your diet is inflammation. By reducing sugar intake, inflammation can decrease. Because there is a correlation between inflammation and the conversion of thyroid hormones, having a sugar-free diet could increase your thyroid function.
Gluten-free diet. Similar to a sugar-free diet, a gluten-free diet could potentially improve thyroid function. Studies show that a large number of people who are diagnosed with thyroid disease are also diagnosed with celiac disease. Though scientific research doesn’t support a gluten-free diet for hypothyroidism treatment, people with hypothyroidism have reported feeling better after switching to a gluten-free diet.
To help manage your hypothyroidism, there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to feel better throughout the day. These include:
- Getting enough sleep
- Reducing stress
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise to improve heart health
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