How to treat the thyroid problem called Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism, also known as underactive thyroid is a common condition that takes place when the thyroid doesn’t create enough or certain thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. The early signs of hypothyroidism makes you feel tired, gain weight and lose tolerance for cold temperatures.
How does thyroid work?
The thyroid gland, also known as Glandula thyreoidea, is a small, butterfly-shaped organ located in the front of your neck just under the voice box (larynx). Try imagining the middle of the butterfly’s body centered on your neck, with the wings hugging around your windpipe (trachea). The thyroid glands consists of a lot of small individual lobules that are enclosed in thin layers of connective tissue. It produces three namely:
- Triiodothyronine, also known as T3
- Tetraiodothyronine, also called thyroxine or T4
Only T3 and T4 are proper thyroid hormones. They increase the basal metabolic rate. They make all of the cells in the body work harder, so the cells need more energy too. The effects of the energy can encourage faster impulses, stronger heartbeats, brain maturity, growth, improved concentration and faster reflexes.
THE ROLE OF YOUR THYOID
The main job of the thyroid is to control your metabolism. Metabolism is the process that your body uses to transform food to energy which your body uses to function. The thyroid creates the hormones T4 and T3 to control your metabolism. These hormones work throughout the body to tell the body’s cells how much energy to use. They control your body temperature and heart rate.
When your thyroid works correctly, it’s constantly making hormones, releasing them and then making new hormones to replace what’s been used. This keeps your metabolism functioning and all of your body’s systems in check. The amount of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream is controlled by the pituitary gland, which is located in the center of the skull below the brain. When the pituitary gland senses either a lack of thyroid hormone or too much, it adjusts its own hormone (thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH) and sends it to the thyroid to balance out the amounts.
Who is affected by hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism can affect anyone but it’s a common condition, particularly among women over age 60. Women are generally more likely to develop hypothyroidism after menopause than earlier in life. It may be discovered during a medical evaluation or blood test or after symptoms begin.
What’s the difference between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism?
The difference between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism is quantity. With hypothyroidism, the thyroid makes very little thyroid hormone. Meanwhile, someone with hyperthyroidism has a thyroid that makes too much thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism involves higher levels of thyroid hormones, which makes your metabolism speed up. If you have hypothyroidism, your metabolism slows down.
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism have opposite effects. If you have hypothyroidism, you may have a difficult time dealing with the cold. If you have hyperthyroidism, you may not handle the heat. They are opposite extremes of thyroid function. Hyperthyroidism is less common than hypothyroidism. Ideally, there should be a balance. Treatments for both of these conditions work to get your thyroid function as close to that middle ground as possible.
What are the risk factors of hypothyroidism?
- being female
- being at least 60 years old
- being treated with radiation therapy to your neck or chest
- recently being pregnant
- having a family history of thyroid disorders
- having certain autoimmune conditions, such as type 1 diabetes
What causes the presence of limited thyroids in the body?
Hypothyroidism can have a primary cause or a secondary cause. A primary cause is a condition that directly impacts the thyroid and causes it to create low levels of thyroid hormones. A secondary cause is something that causes the pituitary gland to fail, which means it can’t send thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to the thyroid to balance out the thyroid hormones.
The primary causes of hypothyroidism are much more common. The most common of these primary causes is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s disease. This disease is also referred to as ‘Hashimoto’s thyroiditis’ or ‘chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis’, this condition is hereditary (passed down through a family). In Hashimoto’s disease, the body’s immune system attacks and damages the thyroid. This prevents the thyroid from making and releasing enough thyroid hormone.
The other primary causes of hypothyroidism can include:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid).
- De Quervain thyroiditis ( an upper respiratory infection).
- Radioactive iodine treatment (treatment for hyperthyroidism).
- Treatment of hyperthyroidism (radiation and surgical removal of the thyroid).
- Iodine deficiency (not having enough iodine — a mineral your thyroid uses to make hormones – in your body).
- Pituitary disorders (pituitary gland problem)
- Radiation surgery (treatment for leukemia)
- Medications such as lithium and stavudine
- Hereditary conditions (a medical condition passed down through generations).
- Pregnancy: In some cases, thyroiditis can happen after a pregnancy (postpartum thyroiditis) or a viral illness.
What causes hypothyroidism in pregnancy?
In most cases, women with hypothyroidism during pregnancy have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This autoimmune disease causes the body’s immune system to attack and damage the thyroid. When the attack ensues, the thyroid can’t produce and release high enough levels of thyroid hormones. The action impacts the entire body. Pregnant women with hypothyroidism may feel very tired, have a hard time dealing with cold temperatures and experience muscle cramps. Likewise, pregnant women are prone to experience postpartum thyroiditis. A formerly type 1 diabetes patient could be at risk.
Thyroid hormones are important to your baby’s development while in the womb. These hormones help develop the brain and nervous system. If you have hypothyroidism, it’s important to control your thyroid levels during pregnancy. If your baby doesn’t get enough thyroid hormone during development, the brain may not develop correctly and there could be issues later. Untreated or insufficiently treated hypothyroidism during pregnancy may lead to complications like miscarriage or preterm labor.
What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?
The symptoms of hypothyroidism usually develop slowly over time – sometimes years. They can include:
- Experiencing numbness and tingling in your hands.
- Weight gain.
- Experiencing soreness throughout your body (can include muscle weakness).
- Having higher than normal blood cholesterol levels.
- Being unable to tolerate cold temperatures.
- Having dry skin and hair.
- Experiencing a decrease sexual interest.
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Seeing physical changes in your face
- Having your voice become lower and hoarser.
If you discover any of these symptoms, it is as a result of a thyroid problem, talk with your doctor. They would advise you to try a blood test to determine whether you have hypothyroidism.
What are the possible complications of underactive thyroids?
Hypothyroidism can become a serious and life-threatening medical condition if you do not get treatment from a healthcare provider. If you are not treated, your symptoms can become more severe and can include:
- Developing mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
- Developing nerve injuries.
- Reduced kidney function.
- Birth defects
- Having trouble breathing.
- Not being able to maintain a normal body temperature.
- Having heart problems.
- Developing a goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland).
You can also develop a serious medical condition called myxedema coma. This can happen when hypothyroidism isn’t treated.
How can hypothyroidism be treated?
In most cases, hypothyroidism is treated by replacing the amount of hormone that your thyroid is no longer making. This is typically done with medication. One medication that is commonly used is called levothyroxine. Taken orally, this medication increases the amount of thyroid hormone your body produces, evening out your levels.
Hypothyroidism is a manageable disease. However, you will need to continuously take medication to balance the amount of hormones in your body. Also, you need to have a worthy diet for hypothyroidism.
Are there any specific foods I can eat to help my hypothyroidism?
Iodine is a mineral that helps your thyroid produce hormones. If you have low levels of thyroid hormone, eating foods rich in iodine could help increase your hormone levels. The most reliable way to increase your hormone levels is through a prescription medication from your healthcare provider. Do not try any new diets without talking to your provider first. It’s important to always have a conversation before starting a new diet, especially if you have a medical condition like hypothyroidism.
Foods that are high in iodine include:
- Dairy products such as cheese and milk.
- Meat, poultry and seafood.
- Iodized salt.
Aside from a balanced diet, some added dietary and lifestyle changes are:
- Balance your soy intake: Drinking or eating too much soy can lower your thyroid function. Manage the way you take soy as it can be found in soy milk, soybeans and soy sauce.
- Avoid high-fiber foods: Excess fiber may prevent your body from getting the hormones it needs from the thyroid medications. Although fiber is essential, manage the amount you consume daily.
- Do not mix thyroid medications with supplements: There is no doubt that supplements are an added advantage to the body. If it’s a must to take them with your medications, use at different times. This is because some supplements affect absorption so it’s advisable to take your medication alone, without the supplements. Talk to your doctor before starting any supplements.
- Get enough rest.
- Eat fruits and vegetables: Your body needs nutrients to heal and work, especially when you are pregnant.
- Adopt stress-coping styles such as yoga and meditation: Apart from naps and sleep time, there are other relaxing methods to adopt.
Changes occur as we get older as humans. If you notice any unusual differences as a pregnant woman or woman over 60, visit your doctor because you are prone to hypothyroidism. Discuss with a nutritionist (a healthcare provider who specializes in food) to craft a meal plan. Your food is your fuel. Making sure you are eating foods that will help your body, along with taking your medications as instructed by your doctor can keep you healthy.