Hypothyroidism 101

30511389 - human thyroid glandAbout one in ten Americans suffer from thyroid dysfunction arising mainly from hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a condition that occurs when your thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormones. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits low in front of the neck, lying below your Adam’s apple, along the front of the windpipe.

Causes of Hypothyroidism

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This is an autoimmune condition where the body produces antibodies that attack your thyroid tissue, resulting in the inability to produce sufficient thyroid hormone. Thyroiditis may also be caused by a viral condition.

Other causes of hypothyroidism include:

  • Radiation therapy to the neck area.
  • Radioiodine treatment used to treat hyperthyroidism may destroy the thyroid gland, leading to hypothyroidism.
  • Certain medications used to treat heart problems, psychiatric conditions, and cancer.
  • Too little iodine in your diet.
  • Damage or disorder of pituitary gland.
  • Disorder of the hypothalamus.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism vary from person to person. Often, the severity of the hormone deficiency determines the types of symptoms you’re likely to experience, which are sometimes difficult to identify.

At the onset of hypothyroidism, many people experience subtle weight gain or fatigue, which they often, but wrongly, attribute to aging. As time progresses, the condition causes a continual slowing down of metabolism, and more obvious symptoms may arise.

Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms associated with hypothyroidism:

  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling cold
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased sweating
  • Dry, thinning hair
  • Elevated blood cholesterol
  • Impaired memory
  • Hoarseness
  • Puffy, sensitive face
  • Muscle weakness.

Hypothyroidism Risk factors

Women, particularly older women, are more likely to develop this condition than men. Also, it’s tied to genetics, so you are more likely to develop hypothyroidism if you have a close family member with an autoimmune disease.

Other risk factors include:

  • Old age
  • Race (White and Asian)
  • Premature graying hair
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Turner syndrome
  • Down syndrome
  • Autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetics, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, pernicious anemia, or vitiligo.

Proper Diagnosis of Hypothyroidism

Thyroid disorders are usually diagnosed with a combination of lab tests and subjective measures/symptoms. Because of the variability of symptoms in people with hypothyroidism, it is not uncommon for traditional doctors to analyze the test results of a patient as normal, yet the patient is freezing all the time, hairs are falling out, and the nails are brittle.

Conventional methods of diagnosis only examine Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4). When the T4 level is lower-than-normal, hypothyroidism is usually the first suspect. The drawback of this approach is that it’s a poor indicator in some cases.

To understand why this is the case, let’s briefly examine how the thyroid works. The thyroid gland produces T4, which is the inactive form of thyroid hormone. Inside your cells, T4 is then converted into T3 (triiodothyronine), which then regulates your metabolism, temperature, fat, and energy levels. Unfortunately, several things can impair this conversion process. Common examples include stress, diabetes, insulin resistance, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Fibromyalgia. By looking at T4 without comparing it to T3, many cases of hypothyroidism can easily be missed.

Furthermore, T3 Reverse is another component that is majorly overlooked. However, it plays a crucial role in diagnosing hypothyroidism. For instance, if the T3 Reverse is elevated, it down-regulates T3 Free, which is the more beneficial form of T3. T3 Reverse is produced during the conversion of T4 to T3, but for people with hypothyroidism, elevated levels of T3 Reverse are produced from the conversion process.

Therefore, the best approach for diagnosis is to take a more holistic approach by examining T3 Free, T3 Reverse, T4 Free, TSH, and thyroid peroxidase antibodies. In conjunction with subjective symptoms, the complete picture can be formed and the best thyroid treatment solution can be developed on an individual basis.

Proper Treatment for Hypothyroidism

The conventional care for hypothyroidism is the prescription of synthetic thyroid hormone T4, like Levothyroxine and Synthroid. However, many patients do not respond to treatment because the main issue is sometimes not the production of T4 but its conversion into T3. Consequently, they may need a different approach that includes direct T3 replacement. Other therapeutic options include bio-identical thyroid hormone replacement using T3 or T3/T4 combination.

Tips to Relieve Hypothyroidism Symptoms

The best way to combat hypothyroidism is to seek adequate medical treatment. But on top of your medication, here are some tips that can help you relieve common symptoms:

  • Combat fatigue by taking power naps, which should be no longer than 30 minutes to avoid falling into a deep sleep.
  • Remember to guard against cold sensitivity through the choice of your clothing.
  • Use alcohol-free moisturizers to prevent dry skin.
  • Getting enough fiber in your diet can help to relieve constipation.
  • Manage your weight. Limit processed food and those high in fat and sugar.
  • Practice mindfulness to fight depression.
  • Ensure that you take your medication properly.

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