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Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the body lacks sufficient thyroid hormone. The main purpose of the thyroid hormone is to run the body's metabolism, which is why people with this condition will have symptoms associated with a slow metabolism.
Hypothyroidism is an extremely common condition; over five million Americans have it. Also, as many as 10% of all women may have some degree of thyroid hormone deficiency. Unfortunately, when we talk about slow metabolism, we talk about a patient’s battles against their weight.
Possible causes of hypothyroidism
There are two fairly common causes of hypothyroidism.
1. Inflammation of the thyroid gland: This inflammation leaves a large percentage of the cells of the thyroid damaged and incapable of producing sufficient hormone. The most common inflammation of the thyroid is a disorder called autoimmune thyroiditis (also called Hashimoto's thyroiditis), a form of thyroid inflammation caused by the body’s own immune system.
2. Thyroid gland surgery: The second major cause of hypothyroidism is a previous medical treatment of the thyroid gland. The treatment of many thyroid conditions includes surgical removal of a portion of the thyroid gland. If the total mass of thyroid-producing cells left after the surgery is not enough to meet the needs of the body, the patient will develop hypothyroidism. In case of benign conditions, the purpose of the radioactive iodine therapy is to kill a portion of the thyroid to prevent goiters from growing larger, or producing too much hormone.
Rare causes of hypothyroidism
There are several other rare causes of hypothyroidism. The strangest condition of them causes a completely normal thyroid gland to fail to produce enough hormones because of a problem in the pituitary gland. If the pituitary does not produce enough Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH) then the thyroid simply does not have the signal to make hormone.
Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism
The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary widely, depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency. Also, symptoms can develop gradually over the years. At first, patients complain of barely noticeable symptoms such as fatigue and sluggishness.
But after some time, most patients develop more obvious signs and symptoms, including:
- Unexplained weight gain
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in joints
- Muscle weakness
- Heavier menstrual periods
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Pale, dry skin
- A puffy face
- Hoarse voice
- Elevated blood cholesterol levels
When hypothyroidism isn't treated, signs and symptoms can gradually become more severe, which could represent a bigger problem. Advanced hypothyroidism is a condition known as myxedema. This is a rare condition, but when it occurs it can be life-threatening.
Signs and symptoms include:
- low blood pressure
- decreased breathing
- decreased body temperature
Hypothyroidism in children and teens
Although hypothyroidism most often affects middle-aged and older women, almost anyone can develop the condition, including infants and teenagers. Initially, babies born without a thyroid gland or with a gland that doesn't work properly may have only a few symptoms.
The most common symptoms of this congenital hypothyroidism, they may include:
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- Frequent choking
- Protruding tongue
- Poor muscle tone
- Excessive sleepiness
Untreated hypothyroidism in infants can lead to severe physical and mental retardation. As adults, they may exhibit several other symptoms such as:
- Poor growth, resulting in short stature
- Delayed development of permanent teeth
- Delayed puberty
- Poor mental development
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