Diagnosing and managing an underactive thyroid

An Underactive Thyroid: Diagnosis and What Can Help

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, a hormone that 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. So, when levels of thyroid hormone become too high or too low it can lead to a wide range of symptoms that fundamentally affect our day-to-day functioning. In fact, without enough thyroid hormone, many of the body’s functions slow down.

Importantly, women are much more likely than men to develop hypothyroidism and it is a condition more common among people older than 60 years of age.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism

The symptoms of hypothyroidism usually develop slowly and are hard to pinpoint. It makes the diagnosis of hypothyroidism difficult at times because its symptoms mimic many other medical conditions. For these reasons, it can take years for people to realize that they are suffering from hypothyroidism. Symptoms include

  • Tiredness
  • Being sensitive to cold
  • Weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Indigestion
  • Depression
  • 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)

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During your visit, our physicians will take the time to develop a good understanding of your condition and how it is impacting your life. This will include exploring the onset of your condition, the specific nature of your symptoms and the overall status of your health. After taking a comprehensive medical history and carrying out a physical exam, some additional diagnostic tests may be recommended. This 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.

How you can improve your thyroid health

The first step to improving your thyroid health is finding the root cause behind the low thyroid levels. Hypothyroidism can be caused by a number of different conditions. For example, it may be caused by an autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It may also be caused by damage to the thyroid gland from cancer or radiation, postpartum hypothyroidism or inflammation of the gland. Therefore, finding the root cause is critical.

In most cases, the following items may improve your thyroid function:

  • Dietary changes that support thyroid health.
  • Appropriate vitamin and mineral supplementation
  • Improvement of adrenal and cortisol function by introducing activities to reduce stress such as therapy, meditation, yoga or exercise.

Left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to other health problems, such as high cholesterol and heart problems. It can also damage the peripheral nerves, interfere with ovulation and lead to the development of a goiter – an abnormal swelling of the thyroid gland in the neck.

If you suspect that you have a thyroid disorder or feel that you are not being adequately treated for a thyroid disorder that you have, make an appointment to speak to one of our doctors.





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