Hypothyroidism | Endocrinology | Loyola Medicine

Hypothyroidism

Overview and Facts about Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a condition that occurs when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. Normally, the thyroid gland produces hormones that help the body warm itself, use energy properly, and keep the organs functioning well.

You might not notice low thyroid hormones levels at first, but in time you could develop a number of other conditions that place your health at risk.

Signs and Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Because hypothyroidism develops over time, you probably won’t notice an immediate change in your condition. You may just feel more tired than usual or gain a little weight.

As time goes on, more noticeable symptoms include:

  • Being unable to tolerate cold
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Dry skin
  • Having a noticeably larger thyroid gland
  • Having a period that is heavier or irregular (for women)
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Memory problems
  • Muscle weakness and aches
  • Puffiness in the face
  • Slower heart rate
  • Thinning hair​

Causes and Risk Factors of Hypothyroidism

A number of factors can cause the thyroid to underproduce hormones. The most common causes of hypothyroidism include:

  • Certain medications, such as lithium, which can limit thyroid hormone production
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid
  • Thyroid surgery, which is when all or part of the thyroid is removed because of cancer or another issue
  • Treatment for hyperthyroidism, which is pursued when the thyroid is producing too much thyroid hormone. Sometimes, the treatment is too effective, damaging the thyroid so that it can’t produce enough hormones.

Certain groups of people have a greater risk of developing hypothyroidism. These are:

  • Those over the age of 60
  • Those with Celiac disease or type 1 diabetes
  • Those who have been pregnant in the past six months
  • Those who have had thyroid surgery or radiation to the neck or chest
  • Women

Tests and Diagnosis of Hypothyroidism

If you think you have a thyroid problem, you should seek help from an endocrinologists, which is a doctor specializing in treating hormonal disorders. The doctor will perform a physical exam to see if there may be any other causes for your symptoms.

Next, they’ll order a blood test to check for your thyroid-stimulating hormones; if these levels are low, there’s a good chance you have hypothyroidism.

They may also test for another thyroid hormone called thyroxine. However, the thyroid-stimulating hormone test is enough to determine if you have hypothyroidism.

Treatment and Care of Hypothyroidism

Treatment for hypothyroidism involves taking a synthetic thyroid hormone medication on a daily basis. This helps bring your hormone levels back to the correct balance, relieving many of your symptoms.

Getting the medication level right can take some time. Your doctor will recheck your thyroid hormone levels about six to eight weeks after starting treatment to see how it’s affecting you.

Once you’re on a stable dose, the doctor will check you every six months to make sure the medicine is still working correctly.