Hypothyroidism: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Management Options
Hypothyroidism is a medical condition that is characterized by the body’s inability to produce enough thyroid hormone. The thyroid gland (located in the neck area) produces thyroid hormone. This hormone is particularly important as it is responsible for a wide range of bodily functions. Thyroid hormone plays a role in our metabolism, it helps regulate our energy levels, weight and even has a hand in regulating our sex-drive. When levels of the thyroid hormone start to decline, individuals may experience a wide range of symptoms.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism can appear unconnected and vague. They usually develop slowly and mimic many other medical conditions. For these reasons, it can take years for people to realize that they are suffering from hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism can affect people of all ages and genders but it is especially common among women over age 60. Causes of hypothyroidism include:
- Autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis)
Most cases of hypothyroidism are caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body’s own thyroid gland. This damages the gland and stops it from producing normal levels of thyroid hormone. Like other autoimmune conditions, autoimmune hypothyroidism has its own causes, triggers and mediators that keep the disease active. Factors such as extreme stress, trauma or gut inflammation can also play a role in worsening symptoms.
Less common causes of hypothyroidism include:
- Postpartum hypothyroidism -following the birth of a child, the normal function of the thyroid gets disrupted.
- Damage to the thyroid gland -i.e., damage that occurs as a result of treatments for thyroid cancer or radiation.
- Thyroiditis -inflammation of the thyroid gland.
- Hereditary conditions -a medical condition passed down through your family.
Many symptoms of hypothyroidism reflect changes that are caused by a lack of thyroid hormone in the body. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Being sensitive to cold
- Weight gain
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Dry and scaly skin
- Loss of libido (sex drive)
- Irregular periods or heavy periods
- Seeing physical changes in your face (including drooping eyelids, as well as puffiness in the eyes and face)
On the face of it, these symptoms may appear random with little relation to each other. But the overall effect of low thyroid hormone in the body is a reduced metabolism. This slows down many of our normal functions and results in some of the symptoms listed above.
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, be sure to make an appointment to speak to one of our doctors. Our physicians are skilled in identifying hormonal problems, including thyroid disorders.
For some patients, finally receiving the diagnosis of hypothyroidism can be a huge source of relief. Many have experienced symptoms that have gone undiagnosed for years, as the symptoms of hypothyroidism can be vague and may be mistaken for other conditions. That’s why our doctors will spend time with you to make sure that we have a good understanding of your situation and your symptoms.
At your first visit, your Kaplan physician will take time exploring the onset of your condition, the specific nature of your symptoms and the overall status of your health.
The diagnosis of hypothyroidism is made based on a combination of medical history, physical examination and diagnostic tests. Tests may include:
- Blood tests – a full thyroid panel that measures thyroid levels and thyroid antibody levels
- An evaluation of minerals and vitamins to look for low levels of these nutrients that support the thyroid
- Digestive tests
- Tests that measure functioning of the adrenal gland and cortisol levels
Other testing may be carried out to exclude different causes for your symptoms.
The functional medicine approach to treating hypothyroidism is much more thorough than the traditional medicine approach. Our approach involves a more holistic view and may include a recommendation of the following:
- Dietary changes to improve your gut function
- Appropriate vitamin and mineral supplementation
- Improvement of the adrenal-cortisol function by introducing activities to reduce stress such as therapy, meditation, yoga or exercise.
- Thyroid replacement tablets to replace the thyroid hormone that you are no longer making.
Management will also take into account a number of factors such as the exact cause of the hypothyroidism, the symptoms you have been experiencing and the impact that it is having on your quality of life. Our goal is to find the best possible treatment options that work for your condition and your lifestyle.
If you suspect that you have a thyroid disorder or feel that you aren’t being treated well for a thyroid disorder that you do have, make an appointment to speak to one of our doctors.
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