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Diagnosing Your Changes: Hypothyroidism

Friday, February 17, 2017 10:02 AM

We often don't think twice about the small changes our bodies experience, but when issues like long periods of exhaustion, unexplained weight changes and unbalanced metabolism arise, there might be more going on. Recently, Dr. Herman Blomeier, NorthShore Endocrinologist, answered questions about these symptoms in an online chat about the thyroid. A popular topic of discussion was hypothyroidism, which Dr. Blomeier talks about below:

What is hypothyroidism? Is it common?
Hypothyroidism is when the body does not make enough thyroid hormone, which is usually a problem with the thyroid gland, although can be a problem with the pituitary gland as well. The prevalence is anywhere from 0.1-2% of the population depending on the survey or study, and is more common in women than men, as well as in older adults. Subclinical (or mild) hypothyroidism may be more common.

What are the causes for this condition?
The most common cause (in the US) is autoimmune hypothyroidism which is also called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Other causes include surgery, drugs, prior treatment of hyperthyroidism (radiation), history of iodine deficiency (rare in US) and congenital hypothyroidism.

Is hypothyroidism genetic?
There is genetic susceptibility to autoimmune (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) hypothyroidism.

Is Hashimoto’s disease the same as hypothyroidism?
Hashimoto’s disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (these terms are often used interchangeably) is actually a cause (most common cause in the United States) of hypothyroidism.

What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?
Symptoms can be usually from a slowing of the metabolic process and include cold intolerance, constipation, fatigue, mild weight gain (although it does not cause obesity), dry skin, swelling. It is also important to know that these symptoms are not always thyroid related, as many of them are not very specific, which is why we rely on labs to make the diagnosis.

If symptoms go untreated, what are some more long-term risk factors?
Severe hypothyroidism that goes untreated can eventually lead to metabolic abnormalities, can decrease heart rate and the heart’s ability to pump blood, as well as cause neurologic dysfunction.

What are some of the treatment options available? 
The main treatment of choice is to replace the thyroid hormone with synthetic thyroid hormone or levothyroxine, which is available in different generic or brand-name formulations.

Who can patients go to if they think they are suffering from hypothyroidism?
They can usually be screened by their primary care physician with checking a simple blood test if one if having symptoms of hypothyroidism.