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Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce as many hormones as it should. It causes unpleasant feelings like lethargy, depression and weight gain.
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Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid) | NIDDK. [Accessed 28-09-21]
Hypothyroidism is sometimes known as an underactive thyroid. If you’re diagnosed with either, it’s helpful to know that they’re both the same condition but with a slightly different name.
Hypothyroidism and underactive thyroid mean that the thyroid gland can’t produce enough of a hormone called thyroxine. Thyroxine is the hormone that controls how much energy your body uses and is responsible for balancing your metabolism.
Think about it in terms of the battery on your smartphone. You may suddenly notice that even though you’re still using it for the same amount of time every day, the battery runs out quickly and needs more frequent charging to keep it going. If your body doesn’t have enough thyroxine, a similar type of thing happens and over time it can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms such as depression, fatigue, muscle cramping and weight gain.
It’s a condition that affects both men and women, though it’s more common in women. One reason for this is because hypothyroidism is known to be an auto-immune condition and these tend to be more prevalent in females than in males.
Hypothyroidism is usually most common in people aged over 60, but can occur at any age or stage of life.
In fact, children can develop it too, and it can be present from birth. It’s possible to be born with an underdeveloped thyroid, which will need to be corrected with treatment. This will usually be taken for life.
Hypothyroidism is actually a relatively common condition globally. There are very few countries across the world that don’t have any cases at all. Across all genders, it’s estimated that between 1-5% of the population globally has some level of hypothyroidism.
In some countries, cases are caused by diets that don’t contain enough iodine, which is found in foods such as seafood. Similarly, it can also occur when you don’t get enough dairy products in your diet too.
However, there are also other factors that increase susceptibility to hypothyroidism, such as genetic predisposition, your ethnicity and even social factors such as whether or not you smoke.
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There are a range of reasons why someone might have hypothyroidism. It can be caused by many different factors.
You may be genetically predisposed to an underactive thyroid if one or more close blood relatives has it. It’s always worth talking to your family to see if there are any diagnosed cases that you might not have been aware of.
It can be caused by your thyroid gland being attacked by your immune system (otherwise known as an auto-immune disease). Auto-immune conditions are defined as illnesses in which the body’s cells attack each other. They can end up causing problems with other organs in the body. Conditions such as coeliac disease, lupus and type 1 diabetes are all examples of auto-immune illnesses.
There is also a condition called Hashimoto’s disease, which is classed as another auto-immune illness, which causes some of the same symptoms of an underactive thyroid. This can lead to later development of hypothyroidism.
When your thyroid gland is attacked in this way, it produces less of the hormone thyroxine. This is the hormone you need to keep your metabolism in check as it converts fat into energy. Your diet plays an important role in keeping your thyroid gland functioning, lack of iodine from foods such as fresh fish, seafood and dairy products like cheese and milk can affect it too.
In some very rare cases, it’s possible to be born without a properly developed thyroid gland, which can cause an underactive thyroid to develop. In these cases, it’s important to detect it as soon as possible and start treatment. This will usually be for life.
If your body doesn’t produce enough thyroxine, you might feel as if you’re going in slow motion, as your body has to conserve all the energy it needs in order to carry on day to day.
Therefore, you might notice symptoms such as:
Many people who have hypothyroidism are diagnosed, start treatment and begin to feel better over time. It’s often a gradual recovery, but a noticeable one.
If you have an underactive thyroid, our clinicians can help. We’ll talk through treatment options with you and recommend the right medications for you.
Global epidemiology of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 14(5), pp.301–316. [Accessed 28-09-21]
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism or suspect you might have it, then you might want to have a chat with us about how we can help you with your treatment. We’re always happy to do that and discuss any questions you might have.
Treating hypothyroidism isn’t a hassle. The most common treatment for the condition is to take tablets every single day to make up for the deficit of thyroxine you have. It’s very similar to taking HRT for the symptoms of menopause, in order to balance your hormones.
You’ll take your medication daily and every so often have regular blood tests. These will ensure that the right levels of thyroid hormones are reached. You’ll often start off on a low dose treatment and this will be increased over time. When the correct dosage of medication is found for you, your blood tests will become less frequent (usually once a year) as you learn to manage your condition.
The best treatment for hypothyroidism is something called Levothyroxine. This treatment comes in a tablet form and we’ll discuss the dosage and how and when to take it with you.
There is also another form of treatment that combines Levothyroxine with Triiodothyronine (also known as T3). This isn’t routinely used for people with hypothyroidism and is more likely to be recommended for patients who have had thyroid cancer, with a significant risk of it reoccurring.
Yes. It’s important that hypothyroidism is diagnosed and treated so that there is a reduced risk of long term complications, and so that you can start to feel better as soon as possible.
Hypothyroidism - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. [Accessed 28-09-21]
Diagnosis - Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). NHS. [Accessed 28-09-21]
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