Hypothyroidism, or “low thyroid”, is a condition due to insufficient thyroid hormone production, which affects 3% of the populace. Hypothyroidism can result from iodine insufficiency (especially in developing countries), exposure to radioactive iodine-131, autoimmune destruction of the thyroid glands (known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), or absence of the thyroid gland (e.g. from surgical removal or in some people thyroid gland is found missing from birth). Untreated hypothyroidism can lead to serious consequences, including life-threatening myxedema coma. Because thyroid hormones regulate many systems of the human body, symptoms of hypothyroidism are diverse. This article will help you identify some of these symptoms.
1Know if you are at higher risk. While hypothyroidism can affect anyone, you may be at higher risk of developing this condition if you have the following:
- Inadequate iodine intake (iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones)
- Exposure to radioactive iodine-131 (gets taken up by the thyroid gland and the radioactivity destroys the gland)
- Recent surgery in the neck, especially to remove part or all of the thyroid gland
- Within 1 year of giving birth to a child– this is known as postpartum thyroiditis and affects about 5% of postpartum women
- Hypothyroidism affects members of your first-degree relatives
- Very high iodine intake (sounds paradoxical, but very high iodine intake can temporarily shut off thyroid hormone production–this is known as the Wolff–Chaikoff effect.
- Use of certain medications, such as lithium to treat bipolar disorder.
2Congenital Hypothyroidism, a condition of thyroid hormone deficiency present at birth. This affects approximately 1 in 4000 newborns and usually detected during newborn screening in developed countries.
3Recognize early symptoms of hypothyroidism (mild thyroid hormone deficiency):
- Poor muscle tone
- Fatigue, or feeling tired
- Cold intolerance (increased sensitivity to cold)
- Muscle cramps and joint pain
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Thin, brittle fingernails
- Thin, brittle hair
- Decreased sweating
- Dry, itchy skin
- Weight gain (from water retention)
- Bradycardia (low heart rate – less than sixty beats per minute)
4Recognize late symptoms of hypothyroidism (more severe thyroid hormone deficiency):
- Slow speech and a hoarse, breaking voice; also deepening of the voice
- Dry puffy skin, especially on the face
- Thinning of the outer third of the eyebrows (sign of Hertoghe)
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Low basal body temperature
5Severe congenital hypothyroidism can lead to growth failure and permanent intellectual disability if left untreated.
6If you think you may have hypothyroidism, seek professional help. Your doctorcan help you diagnose and treat hypothyroidism. A common test is to check your blood levels of thyroid hormones. Hypothyroidism is commonly treated by thyroid hormone supplements.