Key Points about Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)

  • Hypothyroidism is caused when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain hormones.
  • Having certain conditions or a family history of those conditions can put you at an increased risk of developing an underactive thyroid.
  • Treatment of hypothyroidism typically involves synthetic hormone medicine. Determining your proper dosage can take months of adjustment.

Overview

Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain critical hormones. Because of this, the normal balance of hormones in your body is disrupted. In its early stages, you may not notice any symptoms. However, if left untreated over time, the condition can cause a number of health complications, including obesity, joint pain, heart disease or infertility.

Hypothyroidism causes

Hypothyroidism can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Certain medications, such as lithium
  • Congenital disease that causes the missing or defective thyroid gland
  • Over-reaction to hyperthyroidism treatment
  • Iodine deficiency
  • Radiation therapy to the head or neck
  • Pituitary disorder
  • Pregnancy
  • Thyroid removal surgery (thyroidectomy)

Hypothyroidism risk factors

Anyone can potentially develop an underactive thyroid. However, certain factors can increase your risk for hypothyroidism, including:

  • Being female
  • Being over age 60
  • Having a family history of thyroid disease
  • Having an autoimmune disease, such as type 1 diabetes or celiac disease
  • Having received radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medicines
  • Received radiation to your neck or chest
  • Having undergone thyroidectomy
  • Being pregnant or having delivered a baby within the past six months

Hypothyroidism symptoms

The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism vary greatly and usually come on over a period of many months or even years. Signs and symptoms of an underactive thyroid can include:

  • Achy, tender muscles
  • Changes in menstrual periods, such as heavier or irregular flow
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Dry skin
  • Elevated blood cholesterol level
  • Hoarseness
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Puffiness in face
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Thinning hair
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble with memory
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Weakness in muscles

Hypothyroidism diagnosis

Your doctor may use a series of tests to diagnose an underactive thyroid. Evaluation usually starts with gathering your complete personal and family medical history and conducting a comprehensive physical exam. Your doctor will also likely order blood tests, which are used to measure your levels of thyroxine and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

Hypothyroidism treatment

In most cases, people with an underactive thyroid will need to take daily synthetic hormone medications to help them manage the condition and alleviate their symptoms. It is critical that you take your medicine exactly as prescribed, at the same times each day. Determining the proper dosage of these medications can take several months, so your doctor may need to take multiple blood tests and adjust your dosage accordingly.

When to seek care

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an endocrinologist for more specialized treatment.