Thyroid Awareness Month: Hypothyroidism

The thyroid gland is located in the neck and is responsible for secreting hormones associated with getting energy to the cells of the body and regulating metabolism. Triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) are the hormones produced by the thyroid. The thyroid gland also requires iodine to regulate thyroid hormone production. One of the most common health issues caused by an imbalance of thyroid hormones is hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid does not produce enough or sometimes any hormone to adequately regulate body systems. Some common causes of the thyroid not being able to produce adequate hormone include medications, infections, thyroid nodules and nutritional deficiencies. Iodine deficiency can also cause hypothyroidism. Iodine is available through dietary means but a lack of iodine in the soil in some parts of the world creates a deficiency for up to 1 in 5 people. Women are more prone to having hypothyroidism than men and this risk increases with age.

Hypothyroidism can present with symptoms similar to those of dementia and as such, it is essential that a medical work-up be completed whenever there are symptoms suggesting possible cognitive impairment and that workup should include basic laboratory tests to identify thyroid hormone levels.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include physical changes like fatigue and lethargy, weight gain, generalized body aches and muscle stiffness, slowed reflexes and listlessness, dry skin and thinning hair, a slowed pulse and others. Cognitive changes like depression, confusion and impaired memory or forgetfulness may occur. If untreated, these symptoms can worsen and cause issues like obesity, heart disease and a presumption of dementia or ‘senility’ by some. Rarely, if untreated for long periods of time hypothyroidism can develop into life threatening situations.

Treatment of hypothyroidism includes taking daily synthetic thyroid hormone and for most people this may be necessary for the rest of their life to assure adequate balance. Thyroid hormone replacement is generally well tolerated and readily available. Your physician will suggest a periodic review of thyroid hormone blood levels to ascertain you are receiving the adequate dosage of medicaiton to keep an optimal thyroid hormone balance.

If you or someone you love has had a change of condition including the symptoms listed above it is advisable to seek medical evaluation to determine whether thyroid imbalance may be causing the challenges.

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