If the thyroid gland is not active enough (see hyperthyroidism), a condition called hypothyroidism will develop. In this disease, thyroid gland secretes too little hormones (thyroxine) and, therefore, all chemical processes in the body are slowing down.
Under-active thyroid can be caused by variety of reasons, and sometimes the reason is unknown. In some cases, the disease can occur as the result of treating hyperthyroidism or due to lack of the thyroid stimulating hormone (which is a result of pituitary disorders; see hypopituitarism). Hypothyroidism can also be caused by iodine deficiency in the diet.
Hypothyroidism is also accompanying problem with Hashimoto’s disease, a rare disorder of the autoimmune system in which the body destroys thyroid with antibodies that circulate in the bloodstream. In very rare cases the child may be born with a defective thyroid, and even without it, which is why the body has little thyroxine or none. If the condition is left untreated, cretinism can develop.
Symptoms occur in the course of several months or even years, and reflect as the general deterioration of physical and mental health. If you have hypothyroidism, your body is “slow”. You are feeling constantly tired and exhausted. Even the simple mental action, e.g. addition, requires more time. The whole body hurts you and you can move only slowly. Heart rate drops to 50 (per minute) or less, and the contraction of intestinal muscles is slow, leading to problems with constipation.
Since slow physical processes require less energy, you will eat less, but you will still gain weight. You will begin to feel the cold and dress in much warmer clothes than other people. The hair will be thinning, it will become dry and dull. One of the more serious symptoms of hypothyroidism occurs in the skin, which becomes dry, thickened and swollen due to accumulation of mucoid substance. Your face looks puffy, and due to bloating and swelling hypothyroidism is sometimes called myxedema. Swollen, myxedema tissue can develop on the vocal cords (your voice becomes deeper and rougher), as well as on the ears (causing hearing loss) and on the wrists, pressing the nerves that extend into fists and causing numbness and tingling in the hands. Women have a strong and long periods. Both men and women lose interest in sex life.
In severe cases of hypothyroidism, patient is very cold and sleepy and eventually loses consciousness. This ”myxedema coma” can be caused by cold weather or some drugs, especially sedatives. Newborns with hypothyroidism are lethargic (sleepy), hard to feed, have a big tongue and, in some cases, umbilical hernia and prolonged jaundice.
Every year one person in 500 (on average) speaks to the doctor because of hypothyroidism. In adults, it is often found in women who gave birth to many children.
Untreated newborn with hypothyroidism will become a dwarf and will be mentally disabled, while in adults develops a disease state. If there is no myxedema coma, the disease is usually not fatal.
What to do?
Many people eventually feel the exhaustion and fatigue, which does not mean that they have hypothyroidism. However, if you notice any of those symptoms, see your physician. He will examine you, take blood samples for analysis, and if he finds low levels of thyroxine in those samples, the diagnosis will be “hypothyroidism”. In addition, if the blood contains antibodies that ”work against” the thyroid, the diagnosis will be “Hashimoto’s disease”. Hypothyroidism in infants is often discovered during the examination performed immediately after the birth.
Regardless of the cause of the disease, treatment is simple. You will need to take pills of synthetic thyroxine every day for the rest of your life. A few days after the beginning of treatment you will feel much better, and after several months your health condition should become normal. To newborns, tablets are given as soon as possible. If treatment begins before the age of three months, the baby will have very good chances to normal growth and development without further symptoms. Parents must ensure that the child is constantly and regularly taking prescribed pills. Myxedema coma is a medical emergency that requires immediate hospital care.