The Effects of a Hypoactive Thyroid
Individuals with a hypoactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, suffer from a variety of symptoms that are caused by the thyroid gland being underproductive. The thyroid gland is responsible for secreting a series of hormones that affect virtually every cell in the human body. They directly affect metabolism, the production of protein, energy production and use, the breakdown of fat, and many other processes within the body. If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, then you may have some questions about how this condition will affect your body and your life. Read on to learn the basics about this condition including how it is caused, the symptoms associated with an underactive thyroid, and how it is managed.
What Causes Hypoactive Thyroid?
Hypothyroidism can be caused by a number of things. It can be a hereditary condition, which means that a person is much more likely to develop this condition if they have a close relative that also suffers from hypoactive thyroid, such as a parent or grandparent. Autoimmune thyroid disease is a genetic condition that occurs as the result of an overzealous immune system. For an individual with autoimmune-based hypothyroidism, the immune system is so sensitive that it actually attacks the thyroid gland and its enzymes, which results in a serious decrease in the amount of thyroid hormones being produced and used by the body. This condition is statistically more common among women.
Hypothyroidism may also be caused by surgical removal of the thyroid gland or, in rare cases, being born without a thyroid gland. Thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid gland, can cause the thyroid to go on the fritz and release its entire stock of thyroid hormones all at once. This temporarily results in over activity of the thyroid and then a spell of under activity. Iodine deficiency may also cause hypoactive thyroid, as iodine is a necessary component in the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Radiation treatment, especially in cancers that affect the chest, head, or neck, may also render the thyroid gland unusable due to radiation exposure.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
The symptoms of hypoactive thyroid vary between individuals depending on the cause the severity of their condition. In the early stages of this condition, you might expect to feel sluggish—like you just can’t seem to draw enough energy to do everyday activities. As hypothyroidism eventually slows many of the body’s major processes, you could expect your bowel movements to become fewer and farther in between, your skin may fail to retain moisture which can be evidenced by dryness, and you will likely become extra sensitive to cold temperatures. Your fingernails can become dry and cracked and your hair may seem lackluster and easy to break. Muscle and joint pain are also common complaints of hypothyroidism. Hair loss and muscle cramps are also associated with this condition.
If left to progress, hypoactive thyroid can turn general fatigue into a serious life-controlling symptom. You may feel too tired to get out of bed or take naps throughout the day that last for hours. Your sense of taste and smell will weaken and you will likely have trouble concentrating and remembering things. The skin tends to thicken and take on a slightly swollen appearance. Your voice may become rough and your words come at a slower pace. These symptoms usually show up in individuals who are not currently taking any measures to compensate for their underactive thyroid.
Luckily, the tests used to diagnose hypoactive thyroid are quite simple and accurate. Women who are over the age of 50 may be asked to take a preventative screening for hypothyroidism because it is more common in older women than any other age or gender group. The first thing to tip off your doctor may be the description of your symptoms and a general physical exam. Upon noticing dry skin, dull hair and nails, and complaints of fatigue, constipation, and forgetfulness, your doctor is likely to suspect that hypothyroidism may be responsible for your symptoms.
In order to make a proper diagnosis, your doctor is going to need to conduct a laboratory analysis of your blood. The main thing they will be looking for is the concentration of TSH and thyroxine in your blood. High amounts of TSH and low amounts of thyroxine are pretty good indicators that the thyroid isn’t working as well as it should. The equipment used to perform this test are actually quite advanced and sensitive and will be able to give your doctor a good idea of the treatment necessary to get your body back on track.
Because the thyroid hormone is so essential in general to the human body, the standard treatment for hypoactive thyroid is the use of synthetic thyroid hormones, usually in the form of pills or tablets. Within as little as a week this medication can have the body feeling much more normal. Fatigue should lessen significantly; listlessness and concentration issues should diminish, and cholesterol levels should drop. Because hypothyroidism is generally a lifelong condition, drugs must be taken for life in order to maintain adequate functionality.
In the beginning, your doctor may need to make a few adjustments to the medication that you take. If your drug dosage is too high then you might notice an increase in your appetite, have trouble sleeping, or suffer from muscle spasms of shakiness. You may also be asked to take iron supplements, which can help your body to absorb the synthetic thyroid hormones.