Inside your neck is a tiny gland that has a major effect on nearly every system in your body. It’s your thyroid, and when it’s working correctly, you feel fine. But if something goes wrong, you can experience a wide array of problems. When it doesn’t release enough of its special hormones, you may develop an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism.
Causes of underactive thyroid
Most cases of hypothyroidism are caused by an autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s disease. With this condition, the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid, causing inflammation and interfering with its ability to produce hormones. Although the cause of Hashimoto’s is not always known, it may run in families or may be caused by unknown environmental factors or even viral infections. Typically, the symptoms come on very gradually, so you may not know you have the disease in its early stages.
Other factors can also cause an underactive thyroid. They include pregnancy, radiation of the head or neck for cancer treatment, and some prescription medications.
Although hypothyroidism is often assumed to be a women’s problem, it affects men, too. Unfortunately, the symptoms are often be mistaken for other issues because they tend to be vague and not severe, at least at first. But untreated hypothyroidism will continue to get worse, and can significantly interfere with quality of life.
If you experience any of the following symptoms of an underactive thyroid, talk with your physician:
- Problems with concentration and thinking
- Low libido
- Hair loss
- For women: menstrual changes
- Dry or pale skin
- Feeling cold
- Weight gain
- Depression and/or anxiety
The problem with many of these symptoms is they don’t immediately point to the thyroid as the cause. For instance, hair loss may simply be blamed on aging. Constipation could be caused by a low-fiber diet. And depression is a common condition that is not necessarily caused by poor thyroid function. Men, in particular, may have a harder time finding the cause of their symptoms because of its lower rate of occurrence in males.
Get tested if you have symptoms
Fortunately, blood tests can easily determine if your thyroid is functioning properly. Your physician may test for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4). You’ll likely also get a complete blood count to check your general health.
If someone in your family has had a thyroid problem or any autoimmune condition, and you are experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism, see your doctor to get some standard thyroid tests done.
Hypothyroidism can be treated with thyroid replacement medications, bringing relief of your symptoms and normalizing your hormone levels. Most people with hypothyroidism can lead normal, healthy lives with the right treatment and regular check-ups with their doctor.
CarePoint Health Primary Care
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Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.