What Is The Thyroid, How Does It Become Underactive And How Should It Be Treated?

Underactive thyroid, myxoedema or hypothyroidism affects millions of people, mainly women, in the US. It’s a condition that can’t be prevented but, once diagnosed, it can be successfully controlled by use of daily hormone tablets.

What is the thyroid and how does it become underactive?

The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland which sits in the neck just in front of the trachea or windpipe, which produces thyroxine, the hormone which helps to keep the body’s metabolism working at the correct level. If the thyroid is unable to make enough thyroxine, it causes many of the body’s functions to slow down. This can happen as a result of two things, with the most common cause being autoimmune disease (autoimmune thyroiditis), where your antibodies start to attack your thyroid and affect its ability to produce thyroxine. Scientists still don’t know exactly why this happens. The other cause, although less common, is when there is not enough of the thryoid gland left, either as a result of damage or surgery, to make the necessary levels of thyroxine.

How is hypothyroidism treated?

Most people with hypothyroidism are offered replacement hormone treatment, which involves taking a daily dose of the synthetic thyroid hormone, Levothyroxine. This is administered orally and works by restoring thyroxine to its normal level. By doing so, the symptoms associated with an underactive thyroid, such as fatigue, can be quickly reversed.

This method of treatment has rapid results, with most sufferers noticing improved symptoms within one to two weeks, with usually the first noticeable change being an increase in energy levels. The replacement hormone is also able to lower cholesterol levels and, once hormone levels are restored to normal, you’ll probably find that any excess weight gained will start to disappear.

How long will I have to take synthetic hormones?

Unfortunately, while Levothyroxine does have great success in controlling and reversing the symptoms of hypothyroidism, it won’t cure the condition. You’ll need to take your daily pills for the rest of your life, and have annual checks to see whether there are any changes to your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels which will have an effect on the dosage you receive.

What else can I do?

While there is no evidence to suggest that hypothyroidism can be controlled or reversed by diet, making sure that you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods can help to prevent you from developing diseases often associated with undiagnosed hypothyroidism. This includes foods which contain iodine, folic acid and selenium, plus those which contain high levels of B vitamins, such as whole grains, nuts and seeds.

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