Hypothyroidism – Are You at Risk?Jason Siddall
Your thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system. When it works as it should, it produces and releases thyroid hormones into your bloodstream that regulate your metabolic rate, muscle control, heart and digestive function, bone maintenance, brain development and mood. Sometimes, however, often as a result of an autoimmune disease, our thyroids can become overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism).
When the thyroid becomes damaged from an immune system attack, it can no longer produce the hormone thyroxine. This can cause symptoms such as weight gain, feelings of depression, and chronic tiredness, among others.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
Hashimoto’s disease is the most common type of autoimmune disease linked to hypothyroidism. Although the exact causes of this disease are still unclear, it does tend to run in families. It’s also more common in people who already have an immune disorder, such as Type 1 diabetes or vitiligo.
An underactive thyroid can also occur as a complication of thyroid surgery, or treatment for thyroid cancer. Ironically, it is also sometimes triggered following treatment for an overactive thyroid!
In less developed countries, a lack of dietary iodine is a common cause of hypothyroidism (our bodies need iodine to produce thyroxine). Occasionally, babies are actually born with an underactive thyroid, as it hasn’t developed properly in utero. This is known as congenital hypothyroidism, and it’s usually picked up soon after birth in routine screening.
Sometimes, problems with the pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain, and which regulates the thyroid) could cause hypothyroidism. The condition has also been linked to the use of certain medications, including:
- Interferons (used to treat hepatitis C and some cancers).
- Lithium (used to treat certain mental health disorders).
- Amiodarone (used to help regulate heartbeats).
- Cough medicines (some contain large amounts of iodine, which can disrupt normal thyroid function).
Hypothyroidism Risk Factors
Your chance of developing hypothyroidism increases as you get older – it commonly starts between the ages of 50 and 65. It is also more common in women than in men and occurs in Caucasians more frequently than other race groups. In addition to these common risk factors, you have a higher likelihood of developing an overactive thyroid if you:
- Have a family history of any autoimmune disease, including rheumatoid arthritis and Type 1 diabetes.
- You’ve had thyroid surgery to treat a symptomatic goitre or thyroid cancer.
- You’ve been exposed to radiation in your upper chest area or neck.
Of course, even if you have one or more of these risk factors, it doesn’t automatically mean you will develop hypothyroidism. It does mean, however, that you should be screened regularly in order to pick up the condition early if it does occur. The earlier a correct diagnosis is made, the less likely you are to experience complications.
Treatment for Hypothyroidism
There is no way you can prevent hypothyroidism, but it can be successfully treated, simply by taking a single tablet every day. Levothyroxine is a synthetic version of the naturally occurring thyroxine. It is an extremely pure and effective drug which, when taken correctly, has negligible side effects.
The dosage depends on your body weight, but most patients take between 100 and 150 micrograms every day. Doses can go as high as 300 micrograms in some patients. Doctors often start cautiously and increase the dosage gradually – particularly if your condition is severe, or you have heart problems. You may not notice any difference in your symptoms for several months, as it can take time for your thyroid to function normally again. Your doctor will usually recommend regular thyroid function tests during this period until he or she is satisfied that things are back to normal.
It’s best to take levothyroxine on an empty stomach, first thing in the morning. If you take any cholesterol-lowering drugs, multivitamin tablets or calcium or iron supplements, make sure you take these at least four hours later, as these have been known to decrease the absorption of the hormone. Even once your thyroid function has returned to normal, it’s important to continue taking your medication every day. Treatment with levothyroxine is usually life-long, but your doctor will probably check your thyroid function every year to see if your dosage needs to change.
At ALTMEDCARE International Clinic, our medical and healthcare practitioners have years of experience diagnosing and treating autoimmune diseases, such as hypothyroidism, with our Integrative Medicine Model. Why not talk to us about how we can help you holistically manage your illness.