In order to understand the answer to the question, “What is hypothyroidism?” you need a basic understanding of the thyroid gland and how it regulates your body. Your body contains many glands, and they are all responsible for regulating different systems throughout the body.
Shaped like a butterfly, the thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck and produces the hormones which are primarily responsible for regulating your body’s metabolism (the processes with which your body converts food into energy).
What Is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism, also commonly called underactive thyroid, is a condition in which the thyroid gland upsets the body’s natural chemical balance by not producing enough hormones to effectively regulate the body’s metabolism.
Hypothyroidism can lead to several secondary health concerns
Over time when left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to several secondary health concerns such as obesity, heart disease, peripheral neuropathy, infertility and joint pain.
10 Signs You May Have Hypothyroidism
In its early stages, hypothyroidism’s mild symptoms sometimes go unnoticed, ignored or are improperly diagnosed. If you have hypothyroidism, you might notice the following the signs and symptoms affecting your everyday life:
- Unexplained weight gain
- Weak, aching muscles and joints
- Feeling cold
- Itchy, dry skin
- Hair loss
- Heavy or irregular menstrual cycles
- Reduced memory and concentration
Hypothyroidism Causes and Diagnosis
Hypothyroidism has several underlying causes, including:
- Medications – Certain medications have the ability to affect the thyroid gland’s proper function.
- Autoimmune Disease – Several autoimmune diseases can lead to hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, for example, occurs when the body’s immune system causes increased inflammation of the thyroid gland, leading to hypothyroidism.
- Congenital Disease – An inherited disorder, babies, sometimes, are born with incorrectly developed thyroid glands or no thyroid glands.
- Iodine Deficiency or Excess – Iodine is necessary for the proper function of the thyroid gland. Taking in too little or, conversely, too much iodine can cause hypothyroidism.
- Pregnancy Disorder – Women sometimes develop hypothyroidism following or during pregnancy because their immune systems begin producing an antibody to their thyroid glands, leading to inflammation.
- Pituitary Disorder – One of the rarer causes of hypothyroidism, pituitary disorder occurs when the pituitary gland does not produce enough thyroid-stimulating hormone (the substance which stimulates the thyroid gland to produce hormones).
- Thyroid Surgery – Sometimes surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland is necessary, which leads to hypothyroidism.
- Radiation Therapy – When used to treat cancers in the head, neck and upper chest, radiation therapy can have adverse effects on the thyroid gland, leading to hypothyroidism.
Although anyone can develop hypothyroidism, some might be predisposed to the condition, including:
- Women over age 60
- Individuals with a family history of thyroid issues
- Women who have been pregnant or delivered a baby within the last six months
- Those with an autoimmune disease
- Those who have received radiation or radioactive iodine treatments
- Those who have had thyroid surgery
If you think you might have hypothyroidism, your doctor will likely perform a physical examination, order blood tests, and he or she might also order an imaging scan of your thyroid gland. In case you get diagnosed, check out our article on how to deal with hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is most commonly treated by addressing the underlying condition and with medications to supplement hormones. When being treated with medications, it is necessary to follow your treatment regimen exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Nowadays there are sophisticated, inexpensive smart tools that help you stay on track.