Hypothyroidism is, in effect, the exact opposite of hyperthyroidism. Instead of an overproduction of thyroxine, hypothyroidism is an ebbing and possible cessation of the production of thyroid hormones.
In children, hypothyroidism may be evident through noticeably slow growth, or even a failure to begin puberty. In adults, however, many symptoms are the opposite of those of hyperthyroidism. You may notice weight gain, feeling more tired or depressed than usual, bradycardia (a slower than normal heartbeat), and being sensitive to cold.
Additionally, the face may be puffy, the voice hoarse, and you may have some constipation. Aches and pains, dry skin, hair loss, high cholesterol, and memory issues are all quite common in hypothyroidism. Bleeding during menstrual periods may become heavier or cycles may be abnormal. The longer hypothyroidism goes untreated, the worse symptoms get, until the patient potentially becomes comatose.
Thyroid hormone production can be interrupted for a number of reasons. Much like hyperthyroidism, it depends largely upon additional factors. Underlying issues, like some autoimmune diseases, cancer treatments, and medications can cause the thyroid to quit producing hormones.
Additionally, hypothyroidism can be the result of a congenital abnormality present from birth. In other cases, the pituitary gland stops producing TSH, which means the thyroid doesn’t recognize the need to create thyroxine. Postpartum hypothyroidism occurs following pregnancy. Although uncommon in the United States, some people in other parts of the world experience frequent iodine deficiencies, leading to hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism appears more often in women, which prompts some physicians to include thyroid tests as part of females’ annual screenings. However, in most cases, certain symptoms prompt your doctor to perform diagnostic testing for hypothyroidism.
As with hyperthyroidism, blood tests can show when thyroxine and TSH levels are abnormal or absent. High TSH levels combined with low levels of thyroxine are generally indicative of hypothyroidism, as the brain is telling the body to put out more TSH to try to get the thyroid to make more thyroxine. Improved, more sensitive testing has made it easier to detect thyroid issues sooner, as well as helped doctors find the appropriate level of medication with which to initiate and continue treatment for individual patients.
Levothyroxine is a synthetic version of thyroid hormone often used to replace the hormones not being produced when hypothyroidism is present. In most cases, levothyroxine will be noticeably effective within about two weeks, but it must be used for the rest of the patient’s life. From that point, the trick is to work with your doctor to figure out the right dosage level to keep symptoms in check, usually by receiving annual blood tests.
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