As many as 27 million Americans suffer from problems with their thyroid, with about 1 in 50 women and 1 in 1000 men developing hypothyroidism (the most common thyroid condition) at some point in their lives. Although children can be born with congenital hypothyroidism, it generally develops in adulthood and becomes more common as we age. It’s usually caused by an autoimmune response known as autoimmune thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s disease or by some kind of damage to the thyroid gland itself.
The thyroid and hypothyroidism
The thyroid is a small gland, shaped rather like a butterfly, which is located in the neck just in front of the windpipe. Hypothyroidism is the term used to describe the condition which occurs when the amount of thyroid hormone (thyroxin) produced by the thyroid is reduced. Unfortunately the condition can’t be prevented, but luckily it’s easily treated by taking daily hormone tablets (levothyroxine) to replace the missing thyroxine, and most sufferers feel an improvement in their symptoms very quickly after starting treatment.
How do you know if you’re suffering from hypothyroidism?
If you have a low level of thyroxine in your body you’ll experience a range of physical and mental symptoms, which usually develop slowly and gradually worsen over a long period of time as the level of thyroxine continues to fall. These are some of the most common symptoms, although you may not develop all of these at the same time.
- Tiredness – you may start to feel more tired than usual despite keeping to the same pattern of activity
- Sensitivity to the cold
- Unexplained weight gain
- Fluid retention
- A feeling of lethargy – with slow movements and thoughts
- Aches and weakness of the muscles, possibly combined with muscle cramps
- Dry and scaly skin
- Thin and lifeless hair and nails
Other less common symptoms include:
- Memory loss or confusion (this is common,especially among elderly sufferers)
- A hoarse voice
- Irregular or heavy periods
- Loss of sex drive
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Children with hypothyroidism may experience slower growth and development, while teenagers may begin puberty earlier than normal. Of course, all these symptoms can be due to other conditions, making an accurate diagnosis more difficult. However, if you suspect you, or someone close to you, may have an underactive thyroid you should always consult your physician for a full diagnosis. It is desirable to do this as early as possible following the notice of any of the symptoms listed above.