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Hypothyroidism, also referred to as underactive thyroid, is an endocrine disorder characterized by thyroid hormones insufficiency. Those hormones are primarily responsible for controlling metabolism, thus their abnormally low level might cause several disorders. Its prevalence may be underestimated, since symptoms can be mild or barely noticeable. It is believed, that approximately 5% of population in certain regions do have hypothyroidism in some degree. This disease is frequently caused by iodine deficiency or certain autoimmune disorders and medications. The most common symptoms include cold sensitivity, fatigue, constipation, weight gain, skin dryness and poor concentration. This type of ailment, in majority of the incidents, is fairly easy to treat, and the diagnosis is easy to establish. However, when untreated, the disease will progress and result in several life-threatening consequences.
Each individual has thyroid gland, located at the front part of the neck, which is responsible for thyroid hormones secretion. Those hormones are mainly responsible for controlling metabolism, protein synthesis and are in constant synergy with growth hormone. They have impact on literally every cell and tissue inside human body, and they are secreted only by the thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism is leading to thyroid hormones insufficiency, which further results in slower metabolism and other associated features. What is interesting, prevalence among females is up to 7 times more frequent when compared to males. Pregnancy may temporary change thyroid gland functionality, thus it could be the reason of this proportion.
This condition can be divided into 3 categories:
- Primary hypothyroidism – hormone insufficiency originating from internal gland malfunction.
- Secondary (central) hypothyroidism – caused by either weak or total lack of stimulation. This type of the disease is very rare.
- Congenital hypothyroidism – present in newborns, if mother had hypothyroidism during pregnancy.
Hypothyroidism is not exclusive only for human species. Animals like cats, horses and especially dogs can acquire this type of endocrine disorder as well.
Hypothyroidism causes and symptoms
Thyroid hormones production process requires adequate quantities of iodine, and iodine deficiency in the diet is the most popular origin of this condition. Another popular cause is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an inflammation of the thyroid, caused by faulty immune system reaction. What is more, underactive thyroid may also appear as a consequence of goiter, previous radioactive iodine therapy, use of certain medications and previous thyroid surgery.
Symptoms and signs associated with hypothyroidism can me mild or even barely noticeable. Their severity depends on the stage of the disease and they do not have to be present simultaneously.
The most common symptoms and signs include:
- Cold sensitivity
- Weight gain
- Skin dryness
- Poor concentration
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis is primarily based on blood tests, which are done in order to check thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4) levels. Decreased levels of T4 or elevated TSH are usually indicating hypothyroidism. It needs to be noted, that thyroid gland in females during pregnancy is producing approximately 50% more thyroid hormones, thus their abnormal levels may disturb examinations outcome.
The most common treatment method include hormone replacement therapy with levothyroxine. The course is usually lifelong, but with proper daily dosage the disease is easy to control. Hormones levels need to be examined annually, since the thyroid underproduction may decrease over time, and the daily intake should be adjusted precisely.