Signs and Symptoms of Underactive Thyroid
By Ronda L. Hart, MSN APRN-BC CBN
When it comes down to which part of your body plays the most powerful role in your internal anatomy, your thyroid could be the “pound for pound” champ. That’s because this small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your throat has a pretty important to-do list. It regulates everything from your appetite to energy levels, even though you probably never notice it. That is, if it is working properly.
However, there are a few ways for your thyroid to malfunction—and understanding them could possibly make you a lot more energetic and maybe even a little slimmer. When your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormone, this is referred to as hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid.
Anyone can develop hypothyroidism, but those most likely to be affected are women over the age of 60, women who have recently delivered a baby or been pregnant, individuals who have autoimmune disease, those who have had thyroid surgery or radiation to the neck or chest, or anyone with a family history of thyroid disease or other autoimmune disease. In addition, there are certain medications that can cause deficiency of thyroid hormone, including lithium and amiodarone.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include feeling tired, fatigued or weak without a cause, having intolerance to the cold, having unexplained weight gain, memory problems or depression, having very heavy or irregular menstrual periods, constipation, dry skin or very brittle nails, and thinning hair or eyebrows. Typically, the symptoms of hypothyroidism develop slowly, over the course of years at times.
Luckily, the test for hypothyroidism is simple, generally involving bloodwork for diagnosis. The treatment is usually simple as well, and involves taking either man-made thyroid hormone to replace that which your body is lacking, or taking hormones produced by pigs.
If you develop any of the symptoms noted above, you should seek the advice of your primary care provider. He or she will take blood samples and test them for specific thyroid levels. The diagnosis of hypothyroidism is made when insufficient levels of hormone are present, particularly if you exhibit symptoms of the disease. If you are found to have hypothyroidism, you will be started on hormone replacement therapy. You should start to feel better within 1-2 weeks, and significantly better within a month or so. You will need to see your provider regularly for medication adjustment and monitoring of your thyroid levels. While hypothyroidism can sometimes be a transient condition, most patients will require life-long treatment. Once you are started on treatment, it is important to take your medication at the same time every day, and to not skip or discontinue your medication. If you do this, the symptoms of hypothyroidism will return.