Hypothyroidism: Symptoms, Treatments, and Long-Term Outlook

Understanding the causes and symptoms of hypothyroidism is important, and the next important thing is to work towards treating and even preventing it in the first place. Read on to learn about the steps you can take to manage this condition. 

7 minute read

Last Updated July 15, 2020

Hypothyroidism: Symptoms, Treatments, and Long-Term Outlook

Your thyroid gland is responsible for releasing hormones that regulate your metabolism and the way the body uses energy. Hypothyroidism is a condition that develops when this gland is unable to produce enough of these hormones. 

Without these hormones, your body slows down because your organs do not have the energy to function efficiently. Hypothyroidism affects women more than men and can occur at any age, and treatment is available.

Hypothyroidism Causes

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease. When your immune system mistakenly targets healthy organs and cells within the body, you have an autoimmune disease. 

Hashimoto’s disease is one such autoimmune disorder that causes hypothyroidism because it attacks the thyroid, causing chronic inflammation that interferes with its function. This autoimmune disease is common in families, so it is common to find individuals within the same family with hypothyroidism too. 

Additional causes of hypothyroidism include:

Thyroid surgery: A piece of or the entire thyroid may be removed to treat hyperthyroidism, but this causes a reduction in thyroid hormones, so medication is required to maintain hormone levels.

Radiation therapy: radiation therapy for cancer can slow thyroid hormone production and almost always leads to hypothyroidism.

Certain medications: Medications used to treat psychological conditions and heart disease can slow thyroid hormone production that can lead to hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism Symptoms

The symptoms for hypothyroidism vary across individuals, and the severity of the condition will impact what symptoms appear and when. The earliest symptoms identified are weight gain and fatigue, but because this also happens with age, you may not realize if it is related to your thyroid activity or not. 

Women are more likely to develop this condition, but hypothyroidism symptoms in women are the same for men too. Symptoms generally progress gradually over the years, making it easier to identify with the most common being:

♦ Depression
♦ Constipation
♦ Feeling cold
♦ Dry skin
Slower heart rate
♦ Impaired memory
♦ Dry and thinning hair
High cholesterol levels
♦ Hoarseness
♦ Puffy and sensitive face

Hypothyroidism is also linked to depression, as the low levels of hormones can cause fatigue and weight gain, which contribute to depression. Individuals experiencing mood changes may overlook hypothyroidism, and treatment will focus on the brain instead of the thyroid. 

Depression shares common symptoms with hypothyroidism, so it is important to have your doctor run tests to determine if your thyroid is the cause. 

Hypothyroidism Diagnosis

Medical evaluations and blood tests are used to diagnose hypothyroidism. Through physical examination and evaluation of your medical history, your doctor can identify signs of the condition such as slowed reflexes, swelling, slower heart rate, and dry skin. 

Blood tests are the only reliable way to diagnose hypothyroidism. These tests measure levels of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), and if these levels are high, it means your body is trying to stimulate an underactive thyroid. 

Hypothyroidism Treatment

Hypothyroidism is a chronic and lifelong condition, but medications can help alleviate symptoms. A synthetic version of the hormone T4 copies the actions of the real hormone in the body. This medication is designed to restore hormone levels and activity to alleviate symptoms. 

Most people need to remain on medication for their lives, and it takes several weeks before you start to feel better. Regular blood tests are required to monitor hormone levels and to continue keeping symptoms under control. 

Hypothyroidism Diet

There is no specific diet to follow for hypothyroidism, but there are recommendations you should follow.

♦ Stay balanced: Your thyroid requires iodine to function and produce hormones. A balanced diet of lean proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables should provide you with the levels of iodine you need.

Limit soy intake: Soy products can interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormones, so these items should be limited.

Watch fiber intake: Fiber can also interfere with thyroid hormone production, but it is important for your health. To avoid disrupting any absorption of your medications, take the medications several hours before eating any fiber.

Natural Treatments for Hypothyroidism

Dietary modifications and medications are the best ways to manage this condition. Even with these treatment plans, the symptoms of hypothyroidism can still interfere with your life. 

There are several ways you can naturally reduce symptoms and help improve your quality of life.

♦ Cope with fatigue: Fatigue is the most common symptom of hypothyroidism, but you can incorporate certain strategies to help cope with this more effectively. Making sure you get a good night's sleep every night and trying stress-relieving techniques, such as yoga and meditation, will help.

Get support: Talking about the frustrations and concerns with hypothyroidism is essential for successful treatment. Be sure you have family members or a support group you can share experiences and concerns with to help you deal with any troubles. 

♦ Monitor your health closely: Hypothyroidism is strongly linked to autoimmune disease, so you need to monitor your other health conditions carefully. The most common diseases linked to hypothyroidism include celiac disease, diabetes , lupus, and obstructive sleep apnea, and managing these effectively will also help you manage hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism Statistics

♦ 1 in 5 women will develop hypothyroidism by age 60.

♦ Over 3 million cases of hypothyroidism are diagnosed each year.

♦ Close to 10 million people are living with this condition right now in the United States.

♦ After the age of 6, Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism and Children

Children can also develop hypothyroidism. Children are likely to experience fatigue, constipation, weight gain, and decreased growth. 

This condition develops in children as a result of an autoimmune condition or as a result of congenital hypothyroidism (when the thyroid does not develop properly in utero). Children with hypothyroidism are especially susceptible to weight gain and obesity, so monitoring their diet is essential, so as not to increase their risk for other diseases such as diabetes or heart disease. 

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Hypothyroidism can be life-threatening when ignored and left untreated. The complications of untreated hypothyroidism include heart problems, infertility, serious nerve injury and damage, and in severe cases, death. 

Hypothyroidism can be treated and managed with dietary alterations and medications, so it is essential to follow this treatment plant to maintain a healthy and happy quality of life.

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