Hypothyroidism: Definition, Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Treatment and Care
What is Hypothyroidism?
The American Thyroid Association and Mayo Clinic define hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), as a condition where the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone, preventing your body from functioning normally. The thyroid assumes a butterfly shape and is located in the front part of the neck. The organ manufactures essential hormones that control the body’s energy usage. When the thyroid hormone’s level in the blood is too low, a person is said to be hypothyroid.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
Some of the common causes of hypothyroidism include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a condition that causes the body’s immune system to attack the thyroid tissue thus limiting its ability to manufacture sufficient thyroid hormone, radiation treatment, autoimmune diseases, and having the thyroid surgically removed. Iodine deficiency is another probable cause.
Signs and Symptoms
Hypothyroidism’s symptoms vary depending on the severity of the condition (hormone deficiency). In general, the disease’s symptoms develop slowly, over a number of years. The initial symptoms-weight gain and fatigue-are barely noticeable and when they are, can be mistaken as the effects of aging.
However, more obvious symptoms begin to emerge especially due to the slowed metabolism. They include fatigue, constipation, dry skin, puffy face, weight gain, heightened sensitivity to cold, weak muscles, impaired memory, slow heart rate, depression, stiff, painful or tender muscles, and irregular and unusually heavier menstrual periods.
Hypothyroidism Care and Treatment: The Levothyroxine Hormone
The daily administration of the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine is the standard treatment for hypothyroidism. Synthroid and Levothroid are some of the brand names associated with the synthetic hormone. The medication is administered orally and works by restoring the sufficient hormone levels in the blood, thus reversing hypothyroidism’s signs and symptoms.
A patient on the synthetic thyroid hormone treatment begins to feel less tired after about two weeks into the medication. Since the disease also increases the cholesterol levels of the patient, the hormone treatment reduces the cholesterol and may also help in weight loss. The hormone treatment is lifelong, but the dosage may change on some occasions based on the results of regular thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) conducted by the doctor.
Determining the appropriate levothyroxine dosage is not a straightforward process. It takes the doctor about 2-3 month of THS level tests in order to determine the correct dosage. These prolonged tests are imperative because excessive intake of the hormone by the blood can cause uncomfortable side effects such as insomnia, heart palpitations, increased appetite, and shakiness.
Some conditions such as severe hypothyroidism and coronary artery disease may require administration of the levothyroxine hormone in low dosages when beginning treatment, and then gradually increasing the medication. The progressive hormone replacement approach gives the heart enough time to adjust to the increased metabolism.
When used correctly, levothyroxine does not cause any side effects. It is also affordable. Patients who change levothyroxine brands are advised to notify their doctors that they’re still adhering to the correct dosage. It’s extremely important to take the drug consistently, and not skip a dose or terminate its use entirely because doing so might trigger the gradual return of hypothyroidism symptoms.
Some practitioners of alternative medicine may recommend other supplements for hypothyroidism such as iodine or kelp. This is probably because iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism. However, these alternative supplements are not necessary especially for people living in developed countries because iodine has already been added to iodized salt and other food.
Is there a Hypothyroidism Diet?
Contrary to popular belief, there is generally no hypothyroidism diet. There’s no empirical evidence to suggest that certain foods help with the thyroid function in people with hypothyroidism. There exist claims that coconut oil can cure hypothyroidism, but they are false. They are no scientific evidence validating these claims.
Thyroid hormone replacement is adequate in treating the disease and no special diet is required. The hormone, levothyroxine, should be taken on an empty stomach. While still on diet, patients are advised to be cautious of high-fiber diets because a lot of dietary fiber in the stomach can constrain the absorption of the synthetic hormone.
Foods and Supplements to Avoid when Taking Thyroid Hormones
If you are patient on thyroid hormone replacement treatment, there are foods to avoid with hypothyroidism: walnuts, soybean flour, and cottonseed meal.
Similarly, avoid taking iron supplements and iron multivitamins, calcium supplements, ulcer medications, cholesterol-reducing drugs containing cholestyramine and colestipol, and antacids containing magnesium or aluminum. If these products or foods have to be consumed, it should be done several hours prior to taking the thyroid medication.