Symptoms of hypothyroidism and information to help with underactive thyroids
Select a Topic
- What is Hypothyroidism?
- Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
- What Causes Hypothyroidism?
- Help for an Underactive Thyroid
- Tips for Coping with Hypothyroidism
- Natural Diet for Hypothyroidism
What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. This common condition affects millions of people.
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland can mimic other conditions. Many people are completely unaware they have a problem.
The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland found in the middle of the lower neck, below the larynx or Adam’s apple. This gland manufactures thyroid hormones, which enable the body to carry out a variety of important functions. The thyroid works together with the pituitary gland, which produces thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
TSH stimulates production of the thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, which influence metabolism and organ function. They determine how fast or how slow the body’s organs should work and how the body generates and uses energy.
When the thyroid is underactive (hypothyroid), it doesn’t produce enough of these hormones. Metabolic rate and energy levels decrease and the body uses energy slower than it should.
Extremely low levels of thyroid hormone can be life threatening. Myxedema is a severe form of hypothyroidism and can result in loss of consciousness, coma, and dangerously low body temperature.
Who Suffers from Hypothyroidism?
Underactive thyroid affects about 1 in 50 women and 1 in 1000 men. Hypothyroidism in women is more common in older women and those who are pregnant.
Conventional medical treatment usually involves taking synthetic or animal-derived thyroid hormone replacement drugs.
To diagnose hypothyroidism, your doctor will do a physical exam, take a medical history and do a blood test. A blood test can confirm the diagnosis of an underactive thyroid gland, but doesn’t necessarily indicate the cause. Your clinical history, physical exam and results of antibody screening tests and scans can help your doctor determine the underlying cause.
The blood test measures levels of TSH, T3 and T4 as well as how they interact with each other. The test results will show where the problem lies—in the pituitary gland, where TSH is produced, in the hypothalamus which controls the pituitary gland, or in the thyroid gland itself. Understand the root cause will help your doctor determine the correct treatment.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Signs of hypothyroidism can be difficult to distinguish from other conditions, which makes a proper diagnosis very important. The signs can progress gradually over the years and can sometimes be confused with aging. Early common symptoms include weight gain and fatigue.
Other symptoms include:
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Feeling cold
- Weight gain
- Appetite loss
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Muscle aches and pains
- Allergies, such as itching eyes, rashes, hives
- Heart palpitations
- Sore breasts
- Stomach bloating, digestion problems
- Itching skin
- Low sex drive
- Motion sickness
- Dry, thinning hair
- Brittle, split nails
- Swollen, puffy face
- Poor concentration
- Menstrual changes
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
Several potential diseases and conditions can cause underactive thyroid. Common causes of hypothyroidism include:
- Hashimoto’s Disease – This is an auto-immune disease in which the body’s own antibodies turn against it. Instead of fighting off foreign infections or substances, the immune system turns against the body and attacks the thyroid gland. This causes inflammation, gradually affecting the gland’s ability to function and produce the proper hormones.
- Thyroiditis – Inflammation of the thyroid gland that damages cells, causing the cells to be unable to produce enough hormones. This inflammation can be caused by infection or trauma.
- Treatment for hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) – People who suffer from hyperthyroidism are often treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications to reduce thyroid function. If function is reduced too much, hypothyroidism can result.
- Thyroid surgery – Removing all or a large portion of the thyroid can decrease hormone production.
- Pituitary/hypothalamic disease – If the pituitary gland doesn’t produce enough TSH, the hormone responsible for instructing the thyroid to produce T3 and T4, hypothyroidism can result.
- Iodine deficiency – Iodine is essential for the production of the thyroid hormones. Iodine is found primarily in seafood, seaweed, plants grown in iodine-rich soil and iodized salt. Some areas of the world experience a severe iodine deficiency, including India, Chile, Ecuador and Zaire.
- Radiation therapy – Radiation used to treat cancers of the head and neck can affect the thyroid gland and may lead to hypothyroidism.
- Medications – Some medications can contribute to decreased glandular function, including certain medications for psychological disorders, cancers and kidney problems. Ask your doctor about the effect of your medications.
Disorders Similar to Hypothyroidism
If you have symptoms of impaired thyroid function but tests show your thyroid is normal, there could be other causes. It is also possible the tests are not providing a true picture of your thyroid function. Thyroid tests often come back “normal” although function is not what it should be.
“Normal” test results show that your function falls within “average” range. Because thyroid function varies from person to person, what may be normal for one person is not necessarily normal for another.
Test results should be evaluated in the context of symptoms, which can provide the doctor with valuable information to assist the diagnostic process.
Help for Underactive Thyroid
Conventional treatment usually involves taking a synthetic or animal-derived thyroid hormone medication daily. The hormone replaces what your body isn’t producing on its own, so your body can return to normal function. Levothyroxine (synthetic T4) is the most common conventional medication used to treat the condition. The body can produce T3 from synthetic T4.
Patients must understand their condition and how to take or adjust their medication. The doctor will check TSH levels and determine the right dosage of levothyroxine. Incorrect dosage can cause side effects like heart palpitations, shakiness, increased appetite and insomnia.
Thyroid hormone levels should be monitored every 6 weeks and TSH levels checked to make sure the correct amount of replacement hormone is being administered.
You can also explore other treatment options. Alternative treatments for hypothyroidism, such as glandular extracts, may be well-suited for patients who want to avoid the side effects of prescription drugs. Consider a natural remedy, such as Thyroid Assist™ for Thyroid Gland Functioning. This supplement supports hormone production and energy, metabolism and weight management.
Tips for Coping with Hypothyroidism
Try some of these suggestions to help you cope more effectively with your condition at home:
- Surround yourself with a good support system
- Educate yourself on your condition
- Involve doctors, homeopaths, naturopaths, specialists, therapists, family, friends, etc. in the management of your condition
- Try to maintain a positive ‘can-do’ attitude
- Eat a healthy well-balanced diet
- Include lots of iodine-rich foods such as saltwater fish, shellfish and seaweed in your diet
- Avoid cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale), because these contain a natural thyroid blocker
- Try to do regular physical activity or exercise
- Take and adjust your medications as necessary
- Have your hormone levels monitored on a regular basis
- Perform a daily thyroid self-massage. To massage the thyroid gland, gently stroke up and down the sides of the trachea (also known as windpipe).
Natural Diet for Hypothyroidism
A variety of nutrients is essential for optimal thyroid function. A hypothyroid diet should include essential fatty acids from natural sources like cold water fish such as salmon or cod, flaxseed, walnuts and almonds. Consider an EFA-rich supplement such as fish oil. Seaweed, chlorella and algae are foods rich in iodine and essential nutrients for thyroid function balance.
There are some foods that are normally considered healthy but can actually slow down thyroid function. Foods to avoid with hypothyroidism include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, spinach, turnips, soy, beans and mustard greens. Limit dairy, sugar, artificial sweeteners, caffeine and alcohol, and avoid overly processed food.
Talk with your health care provider about what foods you should avoid or limit to boost thyroid health.
Reviewed by Master Herbalist, Mary Ellen KosankeReferences:
- Holland, Kimberly. “Everything you need to know about hypothyroidism.” Healthline. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/hypothyroidism/symptoms-treatments-more
- “The lowdown on thyroid slowdown.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-lowdown-on-thyroid-slowdown
- “Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)”. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/hypothyroidism
- “Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid).” WebMD. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://www.webmd.com/women/hypothyroidism-underactive-thyroid-symptoms-causes-treatments#1
- “Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).” Mayo Clinic. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothyroidism/symptoms-causes/syc-20350284