What is hypothyroidism & how is it treated?
Hypothyroidism is a common condition that is the result of an underactive thyroid. Your thyroid is a small gland in the front of your neck just below your larynx (voice box) that produces hormones your body needs to function properly. The thyroid is part of your endocrine system, the system that’s responsible for creating the hormones that control many of your body’s functions.
The thyroid regulates your metabolism and controls how your body uses energy. This extends to how fast your heart beats, how well you can breathe, how quickly you metabolise food, and what temperature your body is at.
When your thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones to meet your body’s needs, you’ll eventually notice the effects throughout all your body and organs. Hypothyroidism causes the body to slow down, resulting in symptoms like:
- Low energy levels
- Inability to tolerate cold
- Joint and muscle pain
- Joint and muscle weakness
- Irregular periods
- Fertility problems
- Slowed heart rate
- Dry skin
- Dry or thinning hair
- Weight gain
- Cold hands and feet
Hypothyroidism usually develops over a period of years so you may not know you have it until the symptoms become severe. Because many of these symptoms can be common to other health conditions, it can be hard to recognise them for what they are.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
Thyroiditis: An inflammation of the thyroid that causes the thyroid hormones to leak out of the thyroid gland. This leakage increases your blood’s hormone levels, leading to thyrotoxicosis, a condition where the thyroid hormone levels are too high. Thyrotoxicosis may last for many months before leaving your thyroid gland unable to produce enough hormones. There’s a potential for hypothyroidism to become permanent from thyroiditis and you may need surgery.
Hashimoto’s disease: An autoimmune disorder that is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. With Hashimoto’s, your immune system attacks the thyroid gland, and it becomes unable to produce enough hormones.
Radiation treatment of the thyroid: Radioactive iodine, a common treatment for hyperthyroidism, gradually destroys thyroid cells. External radiation therapy can also damage the thyroid.
Congenital hypothyroidism: A small number of babies are born with an underdeveloped thyroid or a thyroid that doesn’t function the way it should. Left untreated, congenital hypothyroidism can lead to developmental and growth problems.
Surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid: Some people who have part of their thyroid removed may develop hypothyroidism. Removing the whole thyroid always results in hypothyroidism. Thyroid surgery can be carried out to treat hyperthyroidism, large goitres, thyroid tumours or lumps, and thyroid cancer.
Medications: Certain medicines can interfere with thyroid hormone production like lithium, heart medications, and cancer medications.
Pituitary gland disorders: A pituitary gland disorder can interfere with thyroid function. The pituitary gland makes a hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone that signals your thyroid on how much hormone it should make.
Rarely, hypothyroidism can be caused by too much or too little iodine in the diet. This is not a common cause in western countries because of our ability to access a wide range of diverse foods.
Risk Factors for Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is more common in women and in adults over the age of 60. People with certain health conditions are also more likely to have an underactive thyroid. These conditions include type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Turner syndrome, a vitamin B12 deficiency, and lupus.
Other risk factors for hypothyroidism are:
- Previous thyroid issues
- A family history of thyroid disorders
- Recent thyroid surgery
- Radiation treatment to cancer in the thyroid, neck, and head
Hypothyroidism and Pregnancy
If an underactive thyroid isn’t correctly treated during pregnancy, both mother and baby can be affected. An underactive thyroid during pregnancy can lead to birth defects, early birth, low birthweight, miscarriage, and stillbirth. The baby’s mother may also experience bleeding after giving birth or a serious condition called pre-eclampsia that causes dangerously high blood pressure and even death.
Women with an existing thyroid problem may need to take an increased dosage of their thyroid medication. Thankfully, most treatments for thyroid disorders are safe to take during pregnancy.
How is Hypothyroidism Treated?
Hypothyroidism is treated by replacing the hormones that your thyroid isn’t making enough of. The most widely used medication in the UK is a prescription medication called Levothyroxine. This medicine contains a synthetic version of the missing thyroid hormone and can be taken as tablets or as a liquid.
By taking levothyroxine, your thyroid levels should start to balance out and any symptoms will be reduced. It usually starts working right away, but your symptoms can take a few weeks to show improvement.
It may take some time to get your dosage right so you will need regular blood tests at first so your GP can monitor your thyroid function and hormone levels. If you become pregnant, your thyroid will need to be more closely monitored.
Hypothyroidism and Diet
You should eat a well-balanced and varied diet that includes fruit, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. A healthy diet will boost your overall health and give you extra energy, the latter being important because of the low energy levels associated with hypothyroidism.
If your underactive thyroid is caused by an autoimmune disorder, you may be more sensitive to iodine. Even though iodine is used by the thyroid to make hormones, eating foods with high levels of iodine can make your condition worse. Taking iodine supplements can have the same effect. You should also check that any over the counter medications you take, like cough syrup, don’t contain high levels of iodine.
Levothyroxine Tablets from Pharmacy Planet
People in the UK with hypothyroidism can get their medications easily and quickly from Pharmacy Planet. Simply fill in our online assessment for our pharmacists to review. Once approved, we will dispense your medication and have it shipped directly to you. Visit our online pharmacy today to effectively treat your underactive thyroid.