What is Hypothyroidism?

what is hypothryroidism
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Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid does not make enough thyroid hormone. As a result, your body doesn't function like it should. People with hypothyroidism may feel colder than normal, may have skin that feels drier, may get constipated and even depressed.

What is the Thyroid?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located on the front of the neck, in front of the trachea and below the larynx (voice box).

If you are male, you can easily locate your thyroid gland -- it is just below your Adam's apple.

What Does the Thyroid Gland Do?

The thyroid gland secretes two hormones -- thyroxine and triiodothyronine. Thyroid hormones control your metabolism, which means they regulate the body's ability to break down food and to either use that energy or store it. These hormones can affect nearly every tissue and cell in the human body; they also tell your organs how quickly to work. Your thyroid must produce sufficient hormones in order for you to be in good health.

What is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism means the thyroid gland is underactive -- it does not produce sufficient thyroid hormones. As a result, many physical and mental processes are slowed down, causing sluggishness, and the body consumes less oxygen and produces less body heat.

What Causes Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is most commonly caused by a disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

This disease causes the body's immune system to actually attack the thyroid gland.

How Many People Are Affected by Thyroid Problems?

According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), around 27 million Americans have either overactive or underactive thyroids, but over half of them are undiagnosed.

Who Is More Like to Have Thyroid Problems?

Thyroid disease overall is more common in women than men -- about 80% of thyroid disease sufferers are female. In the case of hypothyroidism, the AACE says women are five to eight times more likely have an under active thyroid than men.

What are the Risk Factors for Hypothyroidism?

Women over the age of 50 are at a higher risk for developing hypothyroidism, particularly if they are obese. Thyroid surgery, neck X-rays, and radiation treatment can also increase the risk of developing hypothyroidism.

What are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?

Early-onset symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • weakness and/or fatigue
  • forgetfulness
  • recurrent constipation
  • unintentional weight gain
  • feeling cold
  • infertility and miscarriage
  • depression
  • joint or muscle pain
  • thin, brittle hair and pallid skin

In its more advanced stages, hypothyroidism can also cause:

  • slowed speech
  • extremely dry or thick skin
  • puffy face, hands and feet
  • a decreased sense of taste and/or smell
  • abnormal menstrual periods, such as heavy menses

How is Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?

A physical examination will allow your doctor to identify any visible symptoms you may have; your doctor will also take your vital signs, as a slowed heart rate or blood pressure are indicative.

There are several lab tests to test thyroid function.

Are There Specialists in Treating Thyroid Issues?

Yes. Endocrinologists specialize in caring for patients with endocrine gland and hormone problems.

Is Hypothyroidism Treatable?

Thyroid disease is treatable, but without medical diagnosis and intervention, it can lead to serious associated health problems such as debilitating muscle weakness, high cholesterol and heart disease. If left untreated, thyroid disease can even be fatal.

The most commonly used medication for hypothyroidism is levothyroxine, which works to alleviate symptoms and replace deficient hormones.

While life-long medication is required, most people are able to live a completely normal life with this condition once they have begun treatment.


A.D.A.M. Editorial Team. Hypothyroidism 12 April 2007. 18 Oct 2007.

American Thyroid Association. Thyroid Fact Sheet 2016. 18 Oct 2007.

The Hormone Foundation. Thyroid Disorders Overview. 18 Oct 2007.

The Hormone Foundation. Hypothyroidism. 18 Oct 2007.

*Edited by Malia Frey, Weight Loss Expert

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