Hypothyroidism: Often missed and overlooked

by on August 3rd, 2011 at 7:00 am

“I’m so glad I finally know why!” Are you suffering with constipation, aches, dry skin and lifeless hair? Always tired and have no energy? Are you struggling to keep the creeping pounds at bay? While these are common symptoms that may be due to any number of lifestyle factors, they could also simply be caused by an under-active thyroid gland.

An under-active thyroid can go unnoticed for quite some time putting the body through even more stress and strain. This condition can cause an imbalance in our bodies leading to weight gain, mood disturbances, fatigue and poor temperature control.

Many of us may not have heard of the thyroid gland, but, as with every organ in the body, it has a very specific and important function. An imbalance in the thyroid can cause various unpleasant and sometimes serious symptoms when not functioning as it should. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of our necks behind the ‘Adam’s apple’. The main function of the thyroid is to secrete hormones which supply energy to the cells around our body via the bloodstream. These hormones control our metabolism, energy levels and temperature regulation.

There are two distinct conditions relating to the thyroid – hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid) refers to an excess of thyroxine being produced causing the body’s functions to speed up. In contrast, hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) means that the thyroid does not make enough thyroxine resulting in its own set of symptoms. We will be focusing on hypothyroidism to help you understand your body better and how to keep it healthy.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism: What would you feel?

Many of these symptoms can be caused by a decrease in thyroxine. Simply put, everything slows down – although not all these symptoms listed will develop in all cases.

Symptoms that commonly occur include:

Tiredness, weight gain, constipation, aches, feeling cold, dry skin, lifeless hair, fluid retention, mental slowing and depression.

Less common symptoms include:

A hoarse voice, irregular or heavy menstrual periods in women, infertility, loss of sex drive, carpal tunnel syndrome (which causes pains and numbness in the hand), and memory loss or confusion in the elderly.

As indicated earlier, these symptoms can overlap with other conditions such as PMS, menopause or a parasite load as these are all linked to toxins, nutrient deficiencies, estrogen dominance, inflammation, food intolerances and a compromised immune system – making the diagnosis of hypothyroidism not obvious and clear-cut. Symptoms usually develop gradually over time as the thyroxine level steadily decreases, causing symptoms to worsen slowly and subtly while being easily overlooked.

What happens if hypothyroidism is left undetected and/or untreated?

Low levels of thyroxine can cause blood lipids (cholesterol, etc) to rise – increasing risk of heart disease. If pregnant, complications can occur as a result of having low levels of thyroxine. These complications could include: Pre-eclampsia, anemia, premature labour, low birth weight, stillbirth and serious bleeding after birth.

What could cause your thyroid to become underactive?

  • The most common cause of hypothyroidism is due to an ‘autoimmune disease’ called autoimmune thyroiditis. Autoimmune thyroiditis causes the immune system to create antibodies that attack the thyroid gland, which in turn affects thyroid functioning leading to inadequate levels of thyroxine. The ‘trigger’ that causes one’s immune system to attack its own thyroid is still unknown.
  • Some people with autoimmune thyroiditis also develop a swollen thyroid gland (goitre). Autoimmune thyroiditis with a goiter is referred to as Hashimoto’s disease.
  • Surgery and/or radioactive treatment to the thyroid gland can lead to hypothyroidism when targeting other thyroid conditions.
  • Side-effects to certain medications.
  • A poorly functioning pituitary gland (less common). The pituitary gland that lies just under the brain makes a hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). This stimulates the thyroid gland to make thyroxine. If the pituitary does not make TSH, then the thyroid cannot make enough thyroxine.
  • Some children are born with an underactive thyroid – called congenital hypothyroidism.
  • Fluoride, heavy metal toxicity, estrogen imbalance combined with bad eating habits, deficiency in key nutrients such as tyrosine, Vitamin C, iodine can also be contributing factors.

How do you find out if you are suffering from an underactive thyroid?

A simple blood test can determine hypothyroidism accurately. Keep in mind that one person’s normal thyroid range will differ from another’s. Your doctor needs to be conscious and sensitive to the symptoms you are experiencing in relation to your TSH and T4 levels. Some people may also have raised TSH levels while experiencing a normal level of T4. This means that they are producing enough thyroxine but the thyroid gland needs extra ‘stimulation’ from TSH to make the required amount of thyroxine. In such instances, there is a possibility of developing hypothyroidism in the future so be sure to get blood tests done every so often to keep any indications of hypothyroidism in check – which your doctor should advise as well.

Help for an underactive thyroid

There are a variety of natural therapies that can be included in the treatment plan for thyroid disorders. Natural remedies for hypothyroidism with herbal and homeopathic ingredients can help to promote steady hormone levels, as well as maintain and restore the health of the thyroid gland.

Some herbal remedies commonly recommended for hypothyroid conditions include Equisetum arvense, Avena sativa, Centella asiatica, Coleus forskohlii and Fucus vesiculosis. There are also herbal and homeopathic remedies that can be used supportively to address some of the troublesome symptoms of hypothyroidism.

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One Response to “Hypothyroidism: Often missed and overlooked”

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