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What is hypothyroidism and how to recognise the symptoms

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Although hypothyroidism is more common among women, it can also develop in men, as well as in people of different ages. This condition occurs when the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormones and becomes inactive. The insufficient production of thyroid hormones leads to disturbances in the hormonal balance of the body and impacts other aspects of the person’s health. Hypothyroidism most often results in a slowed metabolism – symptoms can include fatigue, weight gain, poor sleep, and depression.

What are the causes of hypothyroidism?

In most cases, hypothyroidism develops as a result of an autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s disease. This means that the immune system mistakes the thyroid gland for a foreign body and starts producing antibodies that attack it and damage it.

Other causes of hypothyroidism can be iodine deficiency, overdosing on drugs for hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), damaged thyroid gland as a result of radioactive iodine treatment, or surgical removal of the thyroid gland.

Hereditary factors as well as having another autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, lupus, celiac disease, etc. can increase the risk of Hashimoto’s disease and consequently, of hypothyroidism.

When the underlying cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease there may be other factors that can also trigger or worsen the condition such as stress, radiation, smoking, iodine intake, certain pesticides and environmental pollutants.

What are the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism usually progresses gradually, and in the initial stages of development it is possible to notice only some of the characteristic symptoms. If it remains undiagnosed, health-related complaints may increase over time.

The symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland are varied and often non-specific, manifesting themselves in different functions of the organism.

Common symptoms may include:

  • Increased sensitivity to cold

  • Drowsiness, fatigue

  • Hearing loss

  • Low libido

Symptoms related to skin and hair:

  • Dry, scaly skin

  • Thinning hair and hair loss

  • Swelling of the hands and face

  • Pale skin

  • Decreased sweating

Disorders in the digestive system:

  • Weight gain

  • Movement disorders, constipation

Symptoms of poor mental health:

  • Memory disturbances, loss of concentration

  • Depression, anxiety

  • Feeling distracted or forgetful

Disorders of the circulatory system:

  • Increased blood pressure

Disorders of the menstrual cycle and fertility:

  • Heavy menstruation

  • Infertility

  • Risk of miscarriage

Hypothyroidism in children may slow their growth.

More about the thyroid gland and its functions

The thyroid gland is one of the most important organs in the human endocrine system. Shaped like a butterfly, it is located at the front of the neck and plays a major role in several functions of the human body.

Under the influence of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), the thyroid gland produces T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine). These thyroid hormones in turn regulate our metabolism, oxygen consumption, energy balance, heat production and more. The thyroid gland is responsible for regulating sleep, the menstrual cycle and the proper course of a pregnancy.

Diagnosing thyroid problems

Thyroid hormones help regulate hundreds of important functions in the human body, which is why identifying potential problems is vital.

If you are experiencing symptoms typical for hypothyroidism, the first step should be testing your TSH level. You can do this quickly and easily with the self-test THYRO-Check®. The results of this blood test will give you a good indication of the function of your thyroid.

If the TSH level is abnormal, FT4 can be tested to get an accurate diagnosis. When the TSH level exceeds normal values and FT4 is in the lower limit, these results point to hypothyroidism.

In the opposite case – when TSH is below the normal values and FT4 is above the norm – this is a case of hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid gland.

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