Underactive thyroid (or hypothyroidism) is a medical condition whereby your thyroid gland isn’t producing enough of the thyroid hormone to fulfill the needs of your body. This causes your body’s metabolism to slow down and leads to issues such as weight gain and fatigue. The thyroid gland produces a hormone called thyroxine which helps the body’s functions continue to work at the right pace. A large number of the cells and tissues in your body need thyroxine in order to function correctly.
Causes of Underactive Thyroid
It is a condition that affects women far more frequently than men. While only 0.1% of men develop hypothyroidism during their lives, 2% of women are affected. There are a number of different causes including iodine deficiency. The body needs iodine to make thyroxine and this is a real issue in countries where iodine is not a major part of the diet. Autoimmune thyroiditis can also lead to the hypothyroidism condition as it is a disease that causes your body to make antibodies that attack body tissues. Certain antibodies attach themselves to your thyroid gland and prevent it from creating thyroxine.
The low level of thyroxine produced by the body causes the symptoms as the body’s functions begin to slow down. These symptoms include fatigue, constipation, dry skin, depression, weight gain and retention of fluid. Less common symptoms include loss of sex drive, infertility, memory loss and a hoarse voice. As you can see, these symptoms can be as a result of another medical condition so diagnosis of underactive thyroid is not a simple matter.
A blood test is the best way to discover hypothyroidism. If the results of the test show an enhanced level of TSH, it means that the thyroid gland is underactive and TSH is being produced as a means of stimulating the gland. Obviously, a low level of thyroxine in the blood is a clear sign of underactive thyroid. Generally, a blood test is enough unless there is a suspicion that the patient has a rare form of hypothyroidism.
The easiest and most common treatment is the consumption of thyroxine tablets as they help replace the hormone that is not being created. The dose is usually between 50 and 150mg daily and doctors recommend taking the tablets on an empty stomach as calcium rich foods can interfere with thyroxine absorption. Blood tests will be taken every few months and the dosage can be adjusted according to the results. As the tablets are designed to replace hormones, side effects are uncommon. If you believe that you could be suffering from an underactive thyroid, contact your local physician for a blood test as soon as possible.