Hypothyroidism: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments
According to the American Thyroid Association, hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland cannot produce enough thyroid hormone to keep the body functioning in normal condition. The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland, releases the hormones that control metabolism in the human body. This gland is responsible for growth, development, and many other cellular processes in our body. Hence, an inadequacy of the thyroid hormone can adversely affect the functioning of our body.
Treatments for hypothyroidism include certain dietary changes like avoiding the use of goitrogens, iodine, eating whole grains, and drinking lots of water. Lifestyle modifications like losing weight, increasing physical activity, and monitoring cholesterol and blood pressure levels can also help to give relief from the symptoms.
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Causes of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism has become a very common condition in recent years. Worldwide research shows that an estimated 3.0% to 5.0% of the population has some form of hypothyroidism. This condition is seen more often in women than in men.
The following are some of the known causes of hypothyroidism:
Inflammation: Inflammation of the thyroid gland is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. This inflammation damages the gland’s cells. An autoimmune condition called as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is another cause, and it is where a person’s own immune system attacks the thyroid gland. The body’s own immune system identifies thyroid as a foreign gland and starts producing antibodies to counteract it. This is also seen more commonly in women than in men.
Postpartum Thyroiditis: Postpartum thyroiditis is often seen in women after delivering babies. There is a major hormonal change in the body of a woman during the pregnancy and after delivery. These hormonal changes cause thyroiditis. In the US, approximately 5-10% of the women suffer from postpartum thyroiditis.
Surgical Removal: This variety follows the removal of a part or all of the thyroid gland. In cases where the complete gland is removed, the person develops hypothyroidism, whereas if a little part is left over, there is still some scope for a small amount of production of the hormone.
Radiation: Radiation can be another reason for the damage to the thyroid gland. Treatments for cancer involving radiation to the neck and associated areas can damage the thyroid gland. This damage to the thyroid gland is responsible for the reduced production of the thyroid hormone.
Viral: Viral thyroiditis can sometimes cause temporary or permanent hypothyroidism. This is seen when the upper respiratory tract is affected due to infections. This can lead to hypothyroidism if it is left untreated.
Congenital Defects: Defects related to birth can also cause hypothyroidism. Some children are born either without a thyroid gland or a partially formed gland. This causes the gland to function abnormally.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
The symptoms of hypothyroidism are difficult to identify, as they are not very exclusive. Though, if not checked in time, they may get severe and might start interfering with your day to day life. They vary on the basis of the severity of the hormone deficiency and start occurring at a very gradual pace. Some of these symptoms include:
Unintentional weight loss,
Fatigue or tiredness,
Dryness of the skin,
Increased sensitivity to cold,
Swelling or puffiness in the face, hands, and feet
If you experience any one of the above symptoms or a combination of them, you need to go and see a doctor or an endocrinologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Any delay in the treatment will cause your metabolism to further slow down and you will soon start developing more symptoms.
Poor growth, yellowing of the skin, poor mental development, swollen tongue, frequent choking, puffy face, delayed puberty are all signs of hypothyroidism among infants, children, and teens.
Diagnosis of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed through symptoms, medical history evaluation, physical examination, and blood and other tests.
If you notice certain changes in your bodily symptoms, then it might be an indication for hypothyroidism. Although given to the fact that hypothyroidism symptoms are fairly common, your doctor may ask you for your family’s medical history.
In the medical and family history evaluation, you need to tell your doctor any sudden changes in your health, any surgeries you may have gone through, any radiation treatment to your neck for cancer, your medicinal intake, and also any family history of a thyroid disease.
Another way to diagnose hypothyroidism is through a physical examination, where the doctor checks for any changes on your skin, such as dryness, swelling, etc. The doctor will also look for slower reflexes and heart rate for a proper diagnosis.
Blood tests for hypothyroidism include the thyroid-stimulating hormone test (TSH) and T4 tests. Of these TSH is the most important test, which indicated an abnormally high TSH in the body, which directly puts pressure on the thyroid gland to produce more T4 because of a deficiency of T4 in the blood.
On the basis of the above tests and symptoms, your doctor can help you diagnose your condition, and on the basis of that, you can start with the treatment.
Medical Treatments for Hypothyroidism
To treat the condition of hypothyroidism, you need drugs that boost your levels of thyroid hormone. This treatment, though, is not a cure, helps in getting relief from the symptoms that include weight gain, stress, fatigue, and mood swings.
Levothyroxine is the drug that is used in the treatment of hypothyroidism. This man made drug acts similarly how thyroid hormones produced by the thyroid gland do. When taken in right doses, you can see a decrease in fatigue and other symptoms within a week or two. This medication also helps in lowering your cholesterol levels. It takes around a month for kids, infants, and healthy individuals to recover from this condition, while it may take a longer time for those who are in a very poor health.
Although the treatment with levothyroxine is lifelong, your doctor will still ask you to get regular blood tests done, and will also check your TSH levels every year. Besides, for the initial period of diagnosis, your doctor will check for your TSH levels every 2-3 months, and any increase in it will be considered as an indication to stop the levothyroxine therapy.
While undergoing this therapy, you need to stick with the same brand of medicine, tightly follow the schedule and diet, and not miss out on any doses. Your doctor will prescribe you a dose on the basis of your age, health, weight, thyroid hormone levels, and a heart condition.
However, if you don’t see any significant improvement within the period of a month, your doctor will shift you to a new treatment, probably one that contains T3 and T4.
Home Remedies and Diet Plan for Hypothyroidism
Medications are the best and most important method for treating hypothyroidism. Besides taking the medication prescribed by your doctor, there are certain home remedies that can help you restore the biochemical changes that are seen in the body. Some of the home remedies for hypothyroidism, along with certain lifestyle changes, are mentioned below:
Coconut has been known to be beneficial to mankind since time immemorial. Whether in the form of edible coconut water or oil, coconut is very beneficial for good health. Being a natural diuretic, coconut water supports thyroid function. By increasing the body’s metabolic rate, coconut water helps in weight loss. It also helps in producing energy instead of being stored as body fat. Coconut water has healthy fatty acids that do not stay in the blood stream like other fats. Instead, they are sent to the liver to be converted into energy, just like carbohydrates. In order to lose weight and keep the thyroid gland functioning normally, coconut water should be included in the diet on a daily basis. On another hand, the oil helps by promoting the consumption in the reserves of the body. All of these factors make coconuts beneficial in the treatment of hypothyroidism.
Avoid Excess Sugar
Unintentional weight gain is one of the problems faced by a person diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Eating too much sugar can cause weight gain, which is not a healthy condition. Foods like pasta and bread are made from refined products and can add extra calories to your diet. You should avoid such foods.
Small and Frequent Meals
In order to avoid putting on weight and having a balanced flow of energy, it is suggested to eat small and frequent meals instead of three large meals every day. According to the American Diabetic Association, this will also help the body to improve its metabolism and will provide the body with constant fuel to do work. Help your body to heal naturally by including fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. Foods that are rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals, and are low in carbohydrates are good for hypothyroid patients. Healthy options are green vegetables, carrots, cauliflower, pumpkin, and radishes. These vegetables contain fewer carbohydrates and more fiber. Smaller quantities of almost all fruits can be included in the diet. Berries such as raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries are considered to be the best options for hypothyroidism.
Avoid Goitrogens in Your Diet
Certain food types, like goitrogenic foods, are known to cause low levels of the thyroid hormone in the body; they actually block the functional thyroid. Foods that contain goitrogens are broccoli, brussels, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, millet, radishes, rutabaga, soy, and sprouts. Although the effect of goitrogen on the thyroid is reduced by cooking, eating these food items raw should be avoided.
People with hypothyroidism tend to lose sodium from the body, which is important for thyroid function. Hence, drinking water is very important. Skin which cracks, peels off, and becomes brittle is one of the consequences of hypothyroidism. Drinking lots of water will help the skin control dryness and will keep it hydrated. The recommended daily intake is approximately 3 liters. Make sure you drink lots of water to reduce the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Increase in your body weight without any reason or cause is one of the biggest problems faced by a patient with hypothyroidism. It becomes very important to exercise regularly, as this helps keep a check on the weight. Regular exercise also improves the rate of metabolism. Exercise increases sensitivity towards the thyroid hormone and encourages secretion of the hormone from the gland. Exercises like brisk walking, cycling, biking, and dancing are helpful in reducing weight and are beneficial for people with hypothyroidism. 30-40 minutes of regular exercise 4-5 days per week is recommended for hypothyroidism patients. Always make sure to get expert advice before starting any exercise regime.
Stress affects people who suffer from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis because stress causes autoimmune suppression. Therefore, avoid stress as much as you can and relax since stress exacerbates underlying thyroid conditions. Stress releases a hormone called cortisol and an excess of cortisol in the blood can interfere with the thyroid hormone. If hypothyroidism runs in your family, your risk increases multifold. By getting stressed, you make yourself vulnerable to autoimmune thyroid conditions.
Avoid Green Tea
A research study has shown that consuming green tea can reduce the T3 and T4 hormones for hypothyroidism patient. It is, therefore, suggested to avoid green tea, especially when you are on thyroid medication.
Important Points to Remember:
Taking medication is very important, especially in the case of hypothyroidism. Do not stop taking your medication when you think that you are feeling better. The medication should be taken exactly as it is prescribed by the doctor or physician.
Take your thyroid medication on an empty stomach. Medications for the thyroid gland work best when taken at least one hour before a meal or any other medication.
Levels of thyroid in the body need to be constantly checked. Make sure that you get regular tests done.
Take expert advice on the diet that you will choose to follow. There are certain food items that can change the way your glands produce hormones.
Avoid diets that have too much oil and salt in them. Less oil and salt are healthy options for overall well-being and health.
Cut down on your intake of high-calorie foods like sweets, biscuits, and cakes as they may cause weight gain. Instead, choose healthy foods like fresh and green vegetables instead.
Treatment for hypothyroidism is for life, in the majority of the cases. With medicines becoming more effective and safer to use these days, living with hypothyroidism can be made far simpler than in the past. To maintain your thyroid levels, keep up the physical activity, take medications on time and in the correct dosages, and follow these treatments.