Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck below your voice box. It is an extremely important part of your body because it controls several crucial functions like growth, metabolism, and maturation. It does this by frequently releasing specific amounts of thyroid hormones that trigger such functions into the bloodstream. So, if your thyroid doesn’t produce the right amount of its hormones, your entire body is likely to go out of whack. Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is a condition in which the amount of thyroid hormones being produced is lower than required. It affects more women than men and is common among people who are over 60 but can occur at any age. Here’s everything you need to know about this condition.
Signs And Symptoms Of An Underactive Thyroid
An underactive thyroid is often accompanied by signs and symptoms that could be mistaken as those of other problems or brushed off as nothing. While the symptoms could vary from person to person, the following symptoms are the most commonly observed ones:1
- Extreme exhaustion
- Puffiness in the face
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Low tolerance to cold
- Muscle and joint weakness and pain
- Weight gain
- Foggy brain
- Heavy or irregular menstruation
Causes Of An Underactive Thyroid
The following are the most probable causes of an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism:2
- Congenital hypothyroidism: If babies are born with an underdeveloped thyroid, they are likely to have hypothyroidism. This can cause growth problems and issues with intellectual ability in the future, which can be prevented by early treatment. So, it’s a good idea to get newborns tested for hypothyroidism.
- Thyroiditis: This condition causes inflammation of the thyroid, resulting in leakage from existing thyroid hormone reserves. Such leakage initially leads to an increase in thyroid hormone levels, which lasts for as long as 3 months, and then results in an underactive thyroid, which may last for a year or become permanent.
- Surgical thyroid removal: The whole thyroid or a part of it may be removed surgically as a treatment for an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), goiter (a condition resulting in an enlarged thyroid due to iodine deficiency), or thyroid cancer. Partial thyroid removal could cause a deficiency in thyroid hormones if the remaining parts don’t function normally, resulting in hypothyroidism. Removal of the entire thyroid, on the other hand, is sure to cause hypothyroidism.
- Hashimoto’s disease: This autoimmune illness causes your immune system to start attacking your thyroid, resulting in inflammation and affecting the production of thyroid hormones.
- Medication: Certain medicines prescribed for cancer, heart disease, and psychological conditions could interfere with thyroid hormone production and lead to hypothyroidism. Check with your doctor about any such medication you’re taking to avoid thyroid issues.
- Radiation therapy: An overactive thyroid is often treated with radioactive iodine, which destroys thyroid cells over time and is likely to cause hypothyroidism. Radiation treatment for cancer in the neck or head region is also likely to affect thyroid functioning and cause hypothyroidism.
Diagnosis And Treatment Of An Underactive Thyroid
In addition to an inquiry about your symptoms, your doctor might conduct a physical exam for easily observable signs of an underactive thyroid. He or she will also recommend a few tests to check for the levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and the hormone thyroxine in your body to confirm the condition.
Once diagnosed accurately, medications are usually prescribed for the condition for an entire lifetime because hypothyroidism is a permanent condition. However, you could make changes in your diet to help in naturally treating the condition as well.
- Include beans, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains in your diet to naturally supply enough iodine to your thyroid for sufficient production of its hormones. However, excess consumption of iodine could be harmful to your thyroid.3 So, consult your doctor before making such dietary changes.
- Add foods with selenium like tuna, turkey, and Brazil nuts to your diet. Selenium aids in thyroid hormone metabolism and is hence helpful for those with hypothyroidism.4 Like with iodine, excess selenium could also be harmful to your thyroid.
- Avoid consuming soy foods like tofu, soy milk, and soybeans in excess to allow the absorption of thyroid hormones.
The effectiveness of these natural steps in treating an underactive thyroid varies from individual to individual. It’s a good idea to consult your doctor about any dietary changes you intend to make to ensure that you are consuming the right quantities of certain foods and avoiding harm at the same time.
|↑1||Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). NHS Choices.|
|↑2||Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑3||Leung, Angela M., and Lewis E. Braverman. “Consequences of excess iodine.” Nature Reviews Endocrinology 10, no. 3 (2014): 136-142.|
|↑4||Selenium. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.|