Soccer Great Ronaldo Battles Hypothyroidism

Ronaldo Retires Due to Injury and Hypothyroidism

Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima in 2006.
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima in 2006.. Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Even one of the world's most famous and beloved athletes is not immune to the challenges of living with a thyroid condition. In 2011, soccer player (that's football for everyone outside the U.S.) Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima--known around the world simply as "Ronaldo--retired at age 34 due to health challenges.

Ronaldo, who is a two-time World Cup winner during his successful 17-year career, has been nicknamed "El Fenomeno" ("the Phenomenon").

He reported that four years ago he discovered he was suffering from hypothyroidism. Ever since that time, has suffered a knee injury, and a number of other injuries, as well as a public battle with his weight that had fans yelling "El Gordo" (Fat One) at him during games.

In a press conference announcing his retirement, Ronaldo said of his thyroid condition, "To control it, I was told I would have to take some hormones that are not permitted in football because of antidoping....The head wants to go on, but the body can't take it anymore. I have to accept my defeats and I've lost to my body."

What Is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is an underactivity of the thyroid gland--the small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck that delivers oxygen and energy to cells, and helps maintain the body's metabolism. When the thyroid becomes unable to produce sufficient hormone, metabolism slows, and a number of hypothyroidism symptoms can result, including weight gain, fatigue, fluid retention, depression, hair loss, and concentration problems, among others.

Hypothyroidism is usually treated with thyroid hormone replacement medication--prescription drugs such as Synthroid, Eltroxin, Levoxyl, Nature-Throid, Amrour Thyroid, and others--that provide the missing hormone that the gland itself is unable to provide.

What Are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?

At first, most people don't even know they have hypothyroidism.

Symptoms can gradually beset the person with hypothyroidism. It may take years before a person feels that they have hypothyroidism. With respect to Ronaldo, it's possible that for some time he may have been playing professional soccer at the most elite level and had hypothyroidism.

People with hypothyroidism can experience various symptoms including the following:

  • increased sensitivity to cold
  • constipation
  • fatigue
  • dry skin
  • weight gain
  • puffy face
  • hoarseness
  • thinning hair
  • pain in the joints
  • depression
  • impaired memory

How Is Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?

Based on clinical suspicion and findings from the history and physical exam, a physician will suspect hypothyroidism and order blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. These blood tests check for hormone levels of TSH and thyroxine.

How Is Hypothyroidism Treated?

Hypothyroidism is treated with levothyroxine, a synthetic thyroid hormone; treatment is lifelong. People who start supplementation with exogenous thyroid hormones tend to feel better quickly. During the first few weeks of treatment, people can loos weight and feel more energized.

Dosages of synthetic thyroid hormone typically need to be adjusted over time, and it takes some time to figure out most effective dosages.

It is unclear whether Ronaldo has been receiving medical treatment for his hypothyroidism over the last four years, or why treating a demonstrable and measurable medical condition like hypothyroidism with medication would be considered "doping" by soccer officials.

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