Hypothyroidism: Causes, Symptoms & Diagnosis

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated -

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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.

What is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism, also called underactive thyroid or low thyroid, is a condition where the thyroid gland cannot produce enough of the thyroid hormones to keep the body functioning in normal condition. The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland, releases 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 thyroid hormones can adversely affect the functioning of our body.

hypothyroidism

Causes

The following are some of the known causes of hypothyroidism:

  • Inflammation: This is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. This inflammation damages the thyroid gland’s cells. An autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is another cause of such inflammation, where a person’s own immune system attacks the thyroid gland. The body’s own immune system identifies the 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: This condition is often seen in women after having babies. There is a major hormonal change in the body of a woman during the pregnancy and post 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, while if a little part is left over, there is still some scope for a small amount of production of the hormones.
  • Radiation: 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 hormones.
  • Viral thyroiditis: It 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: Some children are born either without a thyroid gland or a partially formed gland. This causes the gland to function abnormally.

Symptoms

The symptoms of hypothyroidism are difficult to identify, as they are not very exclusive. They vary on the basis of the severity of hormone deficiency and start occurring at a very gradual pace. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Sudden weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Dry skin
  • Constipation
  • Mild depression
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Forgetfulness
  • Swelling or puffiness in the face, hands, and feet

Signs of hypothyroidism among infants, children, and teens include:

  • Poor growth
  • Yellowing of the skin
  • Poor mental development
  • Swollen tongue
  • Frequent choking
  • Puffy face
  • Delayed puberty

If you experience any one of the above symptoms or a combination of them, you need to 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.

Diagnosis

Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed using the following parameters:

  • Physical symptoms: 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.
  • 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.
  • Physical examination: Here, 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: These 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.

About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve is a health and wellness enthusiast and started working on Organic Facts since 2012 and is currently responsible for managing it. She follows naturopathy and believes in healing with foods. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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