So what is hypothyroidism? Hypothyroidism, not to be confused with hyperthyroidism, is a condition in which the thyroid gland cannot produce a sufficient amount of thyroid hormones. The thyroid itself is one of the largest endocrine glands in the human body, located in the neck and below the larynx. Its function is to regulate the metabolism of the body, the production of protein, the consumption of energy, and the sensitivity to other hormones. The thyroid gland produces special hormones known as T3 or triiodothyronine and T4 or thyroxine. With such important functions, it is by no surprise that a disorder that limits the availability of these hormones such as a hypothyroid would be extremely harmful for the body.
What is Hyperthyroidism?
To avoid the confusion of mixing the two terms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, it is important to understand the later. In hyperthyroidism, the thyroid produces too many hormones in the body, the complete opposite of the previously mentioned condition. An excess of thyroid hormones speeds up the body’s processes. Metabolism is increased, causing the body to lose weight quickly. The heart starts rapidly beating. The sweat glands start producing extreme amounts of sweat. Hyperthyroidism can lead to bone problems, heart problems, and a condition called thyroid storm. Indeed, having a hyperthyroid can be very detrimental to one’s health.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
Like any condition or disorder, the symptoms are often an essential part of what is hypothyroidism. These include:
- subjectivity to cold
- increased pain in joints and muscles
- weight gain
- slowed heart rate
- skin dryness
- decreased sweating
- increased subjectivity to cold
The symptoms listed above develop at a gradual rate, so often times the victim of hypothyroidism will not feel the effects until later.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
Causation is another essential part of what is hypothyroidism. The process that forms this illness can also provide useful information in preventing it. In the US alone, the most common cause is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which makes the immune system attack the thyroid. Because of this, thyroid hormone production is severely restricted, forming hypothyroidism. Other, minor causes exist as well:
- Surgery to remove the thyroid gland
- Radiation therapy for cancer
- Viral infections
- Some drugs, such as lithium
Hypothyroidism’s effects on the general population
The statistical effects of this disease are yet another important component of what is hypothyroidism. In understanding the spread of hypothyroidism and who is mostly victimized by it, patterns are formed and can help in containing the illness.
- The occurrence of hypothyroidism has shifted from 4.6% to 9.5% of the population in the US. That is estimated to be between 14 and 30 million people as of July 2012 (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) and the Colorado Thyroid Disease Prevalence Study )
- 40% of the people already taking thyroid medication still have abnormal TSH readings. (Colorado Thyroid Disease Prevalence Study)
- Women are at a higher risk of having the condition than men (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) and the Colorado Thyroid Disease Prevalence Study )
- The likelihood of contracting the illness increases with ages 60 years and older (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III))
- 1 in every 4,000 babies born in America have congenital hypothyroidism (American Medical Women’s Association)
- White and Hispanics are more likely to have hypothyroidism than African-Americans (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III)) (source)
After breaking down the parts of what is hypothyroidism, examining treatment options is now possible. Luckily, treatment for this condition is well developed and effective. If the initial symptoms of hypothyroidism are mild, treatment may not be required immediately. However, it is important to keep close attention to how the thyroid develops overtime with the condition.
Thyroid hormone pills are usually prescribed for serious variants of hypothyroidism. As effective as these pills are, it is likely the patient will be forced to take these pills for the rest of his/her life. Needless to say, it is vital to take the proper dosage of medication as directly as instructed by a doctor. This is due to the fact, mentioned earlier, that having too much or too little thyroid hormones can prove to be harmful. A severe case of hypothyroidism may cause a life threatening disease called myxedema coma. Clearly, early treatment is a must when considering the negative impact of what is hypothyroidism.