Hypothyroidism is the medical name to describe an underactive thyroid gland. It often results from the autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s disease. Also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis.
Hypothyroidism can occur at any age but is most common in middle-aged women. It occurs when the body’s immune system wrongly attacks and slowly destroys the thyroid gland and its ability to produce hormones. It can also result from surgery to remove the thyroid gland or damage from radiation treatment.
Mild cases of Hashimoto’s disease or Hypothyroidism may have no apparent signs or symptoms, as it can remain stable for years, but symptoms can include:
- Dry skin and dry, thinning hair
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Memory problems
- Weight gain
- Pale, puffy face
- Heavy and irregular menstruation
- An enlarged thyroid, or Goiter
- Slow heart rate
A goitre is a noncancerous enlargement of the thyroid gland which can affect anyone at any age, especially in regions of the world where iodine-rich foods are in short supply. Like most thyroid problems, they are more common in women, especially after the age of 40. Other risk factors for developing a goitre include family history, pregnancy, specific medications, pregnancy, and radiation exposure, including radiotherapy.
Side note: Seafood is a rich source of iodine; fish, oysters, prawns, and seaweed are all excellent sources. Other options include eggs, iodised salt and cows milk. There are smaller amounts in fruits and vegetables.
Signs and symptoms
Often symptomless the only indication is a painless swelling in the neck, but it may cause one or more of the following:
- Tightness in the neck
- Difficulties breathing or swallowing
- Coughing or wheezing
- Hoarse voice
- Dizziness when the arms are overhead.
- Neck vein swelling.
Diagnosis and treatment
Blood tests to check the levels of thyroid hormone, TSH and antibodies.
Hashimoto’s is usually detected at an early stage and can remain stable for years. While not curable, Hypothyroidism/Hashimoto’s disease is treatable with medication. In some advanced cases, surgery might be necessary to remove part or all of the thyroid gland.
Complications of Hypothyroidism
- There is an association between Hypothyroidism and depression, infertility, miscarriage and premature birth.
- A goitre can cause a range of complications, including problems with swallowing and breathing. Untreated may contribute to high cholesterol, heart disease, nerve damage, numbness and pain in the legs, arms.
- When thyroid hormone levels become unusually low, it can cause a rare, life-threatening complication called a Myxoedema crisis, which is characterised by drowsiness, confusion, intense intolerance to cold or hypothermia. This condition requires urgent medical treatment.
Did you know? Overconsumption of iodine usually from supplements or from medications can cause an overactive or underachieve thyroid and make an existing problem worse.
Problems with the thyroid gland can cause a host of health problems, especially for women after pregnancy and during or after the menopause. Fortunately, Hypothyroidism can be easily diagnosed with a blood test and treated with medication. Left untreated it can increase the risk of raised cholesterol, high blood pressure, and risk for heart disease. Is it time to book you well women checkup?