Thyroid disease doesn’t always present very clear symptoms. These conditions are known to slowly progress over time, and their effects can lead to several different health concerns.
Hypothyroidism is a permanent condition where the thyroid gland becomes underactive and doesn’t produce enough hormones the body needs to function properly. It’s also the most common thyroid disease in Australia, and according to the Endocrine Society of Australia, it affects around 1 in 33 people in the country.
It usually affects women more than men, and it is mostly present in people over the age of 60. Hypothyroidism can either occur because the thyroid gland is not able to produce the hormones the body needs (known as primary hypothyroidism), but in some cases, it can result from a damaged pituitary gland (secondary hypothyroidism).
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s disease. This condition causes the body’s immune system to attack the thyroid gland and see it as a threat, leading to swelling and inflammation of the gland.
However, autoimmune conditions aren’t the only known cause of this thyroid condition. Subclinical hypothyroidism, for example, is a condition where the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels are elevated through the thyroid hormone levels are normal. This can lead to some symptoms of hypothyroidism occur, and over time the condition can develop further if left unchecked.
Moreover, there are several other causes of hypothyroidism:
- Genetic disorders
- Surgeries that remove all or part of the gland
- Radiation treatment to the neck
- Certain cancer treatments, etc.
How Is It Diagnosed and Treated?
The symptoms of a thyroid condition can be easily overlooked. For hypothyroidism, common symptoms can include:
- Cold sensitivity
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Pregnancy and postpartum issues
- Hair loss
An overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, can usually cause the opposite symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Diarrhea or loose stools
- Restlessness or insomnia
Because they seem non-specific to the condition, it can be extremely difficult to spot these diseases early on. People generally start noticing something is wrong when the conditions have progressed.
To diagnose thyroid disease, your doctor will have to perform blood tests to see your TSH levels, and a medical examination to see the full scope of the symptoms you’re experiencing.
Thyroid surgery is not on the table if you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, as this can worsen your condition. Instead, you will likely need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication that is meant to rebalance your body’s hormones, the most common medication being thyroxine.
Finding the right dose of thyroxine may take some time, and you will have to get routine thyroid function tests to see how your body is responding to the medication. However, once your optimal dosage is set, you will likely only have to have a routine blood test once a year. Depending on your condition, your doctor may also recommend certain lifestyle changes, especially in terms of nutrition and physical activity.
Of all thyroid diseases, having an underactive thyroid is one of the most common conditions Australians have to face. However, with the right medical attention and some lifestyle changes, you can effectively manage this condition and live a full, happy life.
If you notice any signs of a thyroid problem, please reach out to your doctor right away.