Thyroid Disease Symptoms and Treatment of a Common but Overlooked Condition
Hypothyroidism, the most common form of thyroid disease, is an extremely prevalent endocrine problem that with proper attention can be treated and managed effectively. According to a number of sources, hypothyroidism – where an individual produces too little thyroid hormone – affects approximately 8 to 10 million Americans. It is significantly more prevalent in women than men. Risk also increases with age – underactive thyroid problems are known to be more prevalent in those over 60. For that reason, the American Thyroid Association recommends that individuals over age 35, and especially women, are tested (with a simple blood test) for hypothyroidisim every five years.
Like diabetes, hypothyroidism occurs when a gland (in this case the thyroid gland) fails to produce enough of a hormone that the human body requires for proper function. In diabetes, the missing hormone is insulin; in hypothyroidism, the deficient hormone is thyroxine.
While there are a number of causes of hypothyroidism, the most common is Hashimoto’s Disease. Here, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland, causing it to function poorly and not produce adequate amounts of thyroid hormone. Other causes include: inflammation of the thyroid gland (thyroiditis), congenital thyroiditis (present at birth), radiation or surgical treatment of the thyroid gland, and postpartum hypothyroiditis, which occurs in about 8% of women after childbirth.
The most noticeable symptom of hypothyroidism is a pervasive feeling of tiredness where one is “dragging” throughout the day. Common symptoms include:
• weight gain
• puffy face
• intolerance to cold
• joint/muscle pain
• dry, thinning hair
• heavy or irregular menstrual periods
• decreased sweating
• slowed heart rate
Hypothyroidism is a relatively easy endocrine condition to manage once it is properly diagnosed. A blood test measuring the levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and T4 (circulating thyroid hormone) will provide the information needed by a physician to diagnose this condition.
Treatment is a once-a-day thyroid hormone replacement pill. The medication, a synthetic form of the hormone thyroxine, is available in both brand and generic forms. Interestingly, some endocrinologists prefer to prescribe the brand names (Synthroid, Levoxyl) over the generic because they believe that the actual hormone level contained in the pills is more consistent and accurate – enough so that it warrants paying a higher price for the brand form of the medication.
Hypothyroidism requires periodic follow-up to assure that with treatment, an individual’s thyroid levels return to and then remain in the normal range. For this reason, it’s especially important feel comfortable with the endocrinologist managing your care. With attention to the symptoms, proper treatment and monitoring by a doctor you trust, hypothyroidism can be a relatively easy condition to self-manage.
Endocrine Web: www.endocrineweb.com
National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service: http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov