How to Treat Hypothyroidism
Category: Medical FAQ
Around 5% of the world’s population has hypothyroidism and another 5% go undiagnosed. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not make and release enough of the thyroid hormone into the blood. It causes a slowing of metabolism, lethargy, and weight gain.
Hypothyroidism is treated with hormone replacement therapy. Read on to learn more about hypothyroidism and how to treat it.
What Is Hypothyroidism?
When you have hypothyroidism, you do not have enough of the thyroid hormone in your bloodstream. This causes your metabolism to slow down. Slow metabolism affects your entire body’s function.
It is also known as under-active thyroid disease. Myxedema happens when the thyroid levels are very low and has serious symptoms. It can lead to anemia, heart failure, or a coma.
Hypothyroidism is, in general, very treatable. You will work with a doctor to follow the correct treatment plan for your hypothyroidism.
The Thyroid Gland and Its Functions
The thyroid gland is in front of your windpipe and shaped like a butterfly. It creates and puts hormones into your blood that help your body regulate and use energy. The thyroid hormone controls other functions like heartbeat, body temperature, and digestion.
The main job of the thyroid gland is to control metabolism. Metabolism is how your body processes the food you eat into energy. The hormones released work throughout the body to control how much energy gets used and when.
People’s bodies will react in different ways to hypothyroidism. The varying symptoms can make it difficult to identify. The severity of your hypothyroidism also affects how symptoms appear.
Early signs of hypothyroidism can show up as weight gain and fatigue. These are also common symptoms of aging which can make it hard to diagnose hypothyroidism. You may not notice these changes as a problem.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism are:
- Weight gain
- Feeling cold
- Less sweating
- Slow heart rate
- Higher blood cholesterol
- Dry skin and hair
- Muscle weakness
- Joint pain and stiffness
Symptoms may appear over years of the disease developing. Talk with your doctor if you suspect your symptoms could be hypothyroidism. They will help you decide whether you have hypothyroidism or are simply aging.
Some cases, if left untreated, can become serious conditions. You may begin to notice your face becoming puffy and sensitive. Your voice may become hoarse and you may start to have difficulty hearing.
Anemia is another serious side effect of untreated and undiagnosed hypothyroidism. You may also be at risk of a myxedema coma in some rare cases and will need emergency care. This coma is not a true coma but involves fatigue, hypothermia, low blood pressure, and heart rate.
There can be a primary or secondary cause of hypothyroidism. A primary cause is when a condition directly impacts thyroid function and causes low hormone levels. Primary causes are the most common.
A secondary cause is when a condition causes the failure of the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland sends thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to the thyroid to balance hormones. When the pituitary fails, it can no longer perform its function.
Primary Causes of Hypothyroidism
The most common primary cause of Hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease. This is a hereditary condition where the immune system attacks and damages the thyroid. It leaves the thyroid unable to make and release enough thyroid hormone.
Other primary causes of hypothyroidism include:
- Radiation or removal of the thyroid
- Iodine deficiency
- Other hereditary conditions
Hypothyroidism can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to aging symptoms and other conditions. Talk with your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms. Your doctor may have you get tested for TSH hormone in your blood.
You may also get tested for Hashimoto’s disease and other autoimmune disorders. Your thyroid may be enlarged and your doctor will be able to feel this at your appointment.
The most common hypothyroidism treatment is hormone replacement therapy. This gets accomplished through prescription medications prescribed by your doctor. These prescription drugs will create the hormones your thyroid is no longer able to make.
You can manage hypothyroidism with medication to increase the amount of thyroid hormone your body makes. You will have to take medication to control this for the rest of your life, though. Follow-up appointments with your doctor will keep your treatment on the right track.
Levothyroxine is the most common drug used to treat hypothyroidism. It is the synthetic version of the T4 hormone created by the body. It mimics how the natural hormone would function in the body.
Finding the right dosage of medication takes time. You will continue to have follow-up appointments to check your TSH levels. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you may have excessive hormone levels.
- Increase appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Heart palpitations
The common drug levothyroxine has almost no side effects when used in the proper dosage. You will start to feel better soon after starting medication, but don’t stop taking the meds if you feel better. Doing so will cause hypothyroidism to return.
Coping with Hypothyroidism
Even with treatment, you may still have side effects from hypothyroidism. You should continue to watch for other autoimmune disorders as many have links to hypothyroidism. These autoimmune disorders can include:
- Celiac disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Dealing with Fatigue
While drugs can ease much of the fatigue of hypothyroidism, you may still experience it. There are simple strategies that can help you cope with excess fatigue. Be sure you are getting the right amount and quality of sleep each night.
Eat a well-balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables. You can also reduce stress with meditation or yoga. Studies show that yoga can decrease fatigue and other symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Stay Consistent with Your Treatment
If you think you may be experiencing hypothyroidism, talk with your doctor. If diagnosed, you will need to continue taking replacement hormones for the rest of your life. It will help to alleviate the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
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