What is it?
Hypothyroidism, also known as "underactive thyroid disease," is a common adult condition of the thyroid, a gland that regulates the body's energy. It occurs when the thyroid gland stops producing enough of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. When the thyroid does not produce enough hormone, it slows down the body's metabolism and the gland itself shrinks as its cells are destroyed by the subtle effect in the patient's immune system. The gland is shaped like a bow tie wrapped around the windpipe at the base of the throat.
What are its common causes?
- Thyroiditis and autoimmune disorder which runs in families (this is when the body produces antibodies that attack and damage the thyroid permanently)
- Certain types of thyroid inflammation or viral infection
- Complications of thyroid surgery
- A congenital thyroid defect (occurs in 1 in 5,000 babies)
- Treatments for hyperthyroidism (these treatments destroy part of the gland and the remaining tissue may not produce sufficient hormones)
What are its symptoms?
Symptoms may initially go unnoticed because they often mimic those of normal aging and may develop slowly over months and years. Symptoms include:
- Constant tiredness and lack of energy
- Weight gain
- Inability to keep warm
- Dry skin and hair
- Hair loss or hair coarsening
- Hoarseness of the voice
- Heavy menstrual period in women
- About 11 million Americans, particularly women over 50
- By age 60, an estimated 17 percent of women and 9 percent of men
- About one in 71 women over age 50 goes undiagnosed
How is it diagnosed?
Your internist can screen for hypothyroidism with a simple blood test for Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH). Guidelines from the American College of Physicians (ACP) recommend hypothyroid screening for women over 50.**
How is it treated?
Hypothroidism is easily treated with a daily pill containing a synthetic thyroid hormone, usually for life (unless hypothyroidism case is short-term).
Annals of Internal Medicine Patient Summaries
Search for hypothyroidism in ACP's Annals of Internal Medicine Patient Summaries. Annals of Internal Medicine is the leading peer-reviewed internal medicine clinical journal.
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