Hypothyroidism: how an underactive thyroid can cause problems throughout your body

Written by: Top Doctors®
Edited by: Jay Staniland


Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland, is an autoimmune disease (where the body fights against itself) where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones, which causes a decrease in the body’s metabolism.



What is the thyroid gland?


The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the lower front part of the neck. It produces hormones that control metabolism, and how your body uses energy. A decrease in the body’s metabolism can cause problems throughout the body.


What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?


The symptoms of hypothyroidism are similar to those of other conditions, and can develop slowly over a number of years, so it is not always easy to make a diagnosis of hypothyroidism.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Tiredness
  • Gaining weight
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Muscle aches and weakness
  • Dry skin
  • Brittle hair and nails, and hair loss, especially on the lateral edge of the eyebrows
  • Poor memory
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bags under the eyes

What are the causes of hypothyroidism?


Hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease, and occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland.

The causes of this can be genetic, and can be common in people with other autoimmune diseases such as diabetes.


Who is more at risk of hypothyroidism?


Men and women can be affected by hypothyroidism, but it is more common in women. It affects around 15 out of 1,000 women, and 1 out of 1,000 men. It is more common in people over the age of 40, and can occur during the menopausal years in women.

Around 1 in 4,000 babies are also born with congenital hypothyroidism. Because of this, all babies in the UK are checked at five days old, using a blood test.

If you are concerned about hypothyroidism, or congenital hypothyroidism, make an appointment with a consultant endocrinologist.


How is it diagnosed and treated?


Your doctor or hypothyroidism specialist will make a diagnosis by checking your hormone levels via a blood test. In cases where the patient has an enlarged thyroid, an ultrasound scan may also be required.

The most common treatment for a permanently affected metabolism is the prescription of drugs to replace the thyroid hormone. This treatment will be required for the rest of your life.


By Topdoctors
Endocrinology, diabetes & metabolism

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