General Health

Understanding an Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism)

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The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck. Since thyroid hormones regulate how your body uses energy, they impact nearly every organ, including how your heart beats. Many of the body's functions slow down when the thyroid gland produces insufficient thyroid hormones. 

What Causes Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones to meet the body's needs. Hypothyroidism is caused by factors that directly affect the thyroid (primary hypothyroidism) or by issues with the pituitary gland that disrupt its communication with the thyroid (secondary hypothyroidism). Another uncommon type of hypothyroidism is the one associated with issues in both the pituitary and hypothalamus (central hypothyroidism).

Among these, the primary causes of hypothyroidism are much more common. One of the most common reasons is an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto's disease, which runs in families. In this disease, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and harms the thyroid gland, hampering its ability to produce and release enough thyroid hormone to meet the body’s requirements.

The other primary causes of hypothyroidism include:

  • Thyroiditis:  An inflammation of the thyroid.
  • Iodine deficiency: Deficiency of iodine, a mineral the thyroid uses to make hormones.
  • Treatment of hyperthyroidism: Radiation and surgical removal of the thyroid.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

A hypothyroid condition often develops slowly, with subtle symptoms that are easy to confuse with other illnesses. Detecting symptoms early is crucial for early diagnosis. Here are some symptoms of hypothyroidism:

  • Dry, coarse skin 
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Weight gain 
  • Constipation
  • Hair thinning with hair loss
  • Trouble tolerating cold
  • Slowed heart rate or bradycardia
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Fertility-related issues
  • Low mood or depression 
  • Irregular or heavy menstrual periods in women.

Who is More Likely to Develop Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. Although this condition is more prevalent in women and older adults, people of any gender and age can have it. However, some factors increase the risk of underactive thyroid, such as family history, autoimmune diseases, and iodine deficiency. 

Diagnosis and When to Seek Medical Help 

People who are experiencing symptoms such as dry, coarse skin, tiredness or fatigue, unexplained weight gain, or thinning of hair with hair loss should visit a doctor immediately for correct evaluation and management. 

The doctor will order blood tests to measure the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and free thyroxine (T4) to confirm the diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is made, you will be prescribed medicines to make up for the low thyroid hormone levels.

Management and Treatment of Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a manageable disease. However, you may have to take medications regularly to normalise and correct your hormone levels so your body can function normally. Living a healthy life is possible if you follow up regularly with your healthcare provider and ensure to check your thyroid levels as advised.

Therapy for the underactive thyroid usually consists of thyroid hormone replacement with medications like levothyroxine. The treatment aims to bring the hormone levels back to normal and decrease the thyroid-related symptoms as much as possible.

Complications and Risk Factors 

Leaving hypothyroidism untreated can affect the quality of life and cause serious health problems, like weight gain, alopecia (hair loss), mental illness, heart disease, goitre (thyroid swelling/nodule), and sometimes life-threatening conditions like myxedema (severely advanced hypothyroidism) and its related coma. Treating hypothyroidism should be done regularly by following the prescribed medications and making suitable changes in the lifestyle, like avoiding goitrogenic foods such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and turnips.

Additionally, it's essential to periodically monitor your hormone levels as advised throughout your life to ensure that your medication is effectively managing your condition. Your doctor will adjust the dose based on your hormone test results.


Hypothyroidism is a manageable condition. With early diagnosis and treatment, one can live a normal life. If you experience symptoms like tiredness or fatigue, unexplained weight gain, or hair thinning with hair loss, talk to your doctor to see whether a thyroid problem is affecting you. If you get diagnosed with a thyroid problem, you’ll probably need to take medications for the rest of your life. In addition, you can opt for better lifestyle choices, healthy eating, and avoiding foods harmful to thyroid function, to lead a healthy life.  


General Health

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