Like a thermostat that controls the temperature and environment in our home, the thyroid controls the temperature and environment in our body. When the thyroid gland produces adequate amounts of thyroid hormone, our body operates at optimum efficiency. When it produces too much or too little, our metabolism, weight, blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate are negatively affected.
Hypothyroidism is one of the most common endocrine disorders and occurs when our bodies don’t produce enough thyroid hormone. Females are five times more likely than men to develop hypothyroidism, and the condition can develop at any age. Those who suffer from other autoimmune diseases like diabetes, and those with a family history of thyroid disease have a greater chance of developing hypothyroidism.
Delays in Diagnosis Lead to Health Risks
Hypothyroidism can take months or more to diagnose because the onset of symptoms are usually gradual. Our bodies anticipate a certain amount of thyroid hormone to function properly, and if not there, the pituitary gland works overtime to make additional thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in an attempt to encourage the thyroid to produce more hormone. Left untreated, the symptoms of hypothyroidism will progress and the health risks will increase. Symptoms and health risks can span the following life stages:
Newborn and Toddlers
Approximately one in 3,000 babies in the U.S. are born with a defective thyroid gland, or no thyroid gland at all. Symptoms of hypothyroidism in newborns include excessive jaundice, trouble feeding, poor muscle tone, and excessive sleepiness. Toddlers may show signs of delayed physical and mental development.
Poor growth, delayed development of permanent teeth, and delayed puberty can occur when low thyroid hormone levels are left untreated in school-aged children.
Weight gain, fatigue and depression bring a steady stream of adults between the ages of 35-50 into their physician’s office looking for an explanation, and an underactive thyroid is often the culprit. Left untreated, the condition can also lead to higher levels of “bad” cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease.
Many of the symptoms experienced early in pregnancy like weight gain, lethargy and difficulty sleeping are similar to the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Left untreated, hypothyroidism during pregnancy has been linked to miscarriage, preterm delivery and developmental problems.
The chance of developing hypothyroidism increases with age and it’s estimated that up to 20% of women over age 60 have the condition. While impaired memory, concentration and fatigue can easily be mistaken as signs of “growing old”, they can also signal an underactive thyroid. Health risks include high blood pressure, depression, and increased risk of heart disease.
Once hypothyroidism is suspected, it’s easy to diagnose with a simple blood test that measures the amount of thyroid hormone in the blood. Once diagnosed, the condition can usually be managed by taking a daily dose of synthetic thyroxin, which is identical to the hormone produced by the thyroid. Children with hypothyroidism who have fallen behind in growth usually catch up with their peers once they start medication.
When taking thyroid medication, it’s crucial to have your doctor monitor the dosage by rechecking thyroid levels at least once a year to make sure your body isn’t getting too much or too little of the thyroid hormone. For more information on the symptoms of hypothyroidism or to find an endocrinologist near you, download the free iTriage symptom checker app or visit www.iTriageHealth.com.