What Is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland, which is located in front of the neck just below the larynx (voice box), does not secrete enough of the hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). Defects in the thyroid gland itself or the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, both of which control the secretion of T3 and T4, may lead to hypothyroidism.
What Are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?
Thyroid hormones control metabolism. When they are in short supply, the functioning of the body slows. In the early stages, you may experience:
- Intolerance to cold
- Weight gain
- Joint or muscle pain
- Thin, brittle fingernails and hair
As the disease progresses, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Slow speech
- Dry flaky skin
- Thickening of the skin
- Puffy face, hands and feet
- Decreased taste and smell
- Thinning of eyebrows
- Abnormal menstrual periods
How Is Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?
When you are evaluated for hypothyroidism, your doctor will perform a physical examination looking for signs of hypothyroidism, such as slow reflexes, brittle hair, coarse skin and lower than normal vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature). Blood will be drawn to test the function of your thyroid, including your level of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone).
If you are found to have hypothyroidism, your doctor may choose to run additional blood tests, as hypothyroidism can affect the function of other body systems, as well. Other tests that may be performed include cholesterol, liver enzymes, serum prolactin, serum sodium and a CBC (complete blood count).
How Is Hypothyroidism Treated?
If you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you will need to take medication to restore your thyroid hormone levels to normal. Levothyroxine is the most commonly administered medication. You will need to remain on medication for life.
A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M., Inc.; 2005. Hypothyroidism; [updated 2006 May 12; cited 2007 Jan 25]; [about 1 p.]. Available from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000353.htm