The thyroid gland is a small gland located in the neck, beside the human windpipe. Hormones secreted by the thyroid (T-3 and T-4 hormone) are responsible for stabilizing metabolism, regulating the conversion of food into energy for the body to use and enhances the function of other organs. When levels of thyroid hormone are decreased the body slows its ability to function properly. Metabolism slows down, energy levels fall and cell turnover decreases.
Hypothyroid symptoms occur most commonly in women over fifty years of age. It does occur in men and those under fifty though. These symptoms vary from individual to individual, depending how little the hormone the thyroid gland is producing. The lower the available thyroid hormone the more intense the symptoms and effect on the body. Hypothyroidism symptoms may include:
- Sensitivity to temperatures changes (particularly cold ones)
- High cholesterol
- Weight gain
- Brittle fingernails and hair
- Moving slow
- Skin becomes dry and/or pale
- Facial edema (swelling)
- Muscle stiffness, aches and pains
- Weakness in muscles
- Heavy menstrual cycles
- Painful stiff joints
Childhood hypothyroidism occurs in infants, children and teenagers. Additional symptoms may include:
1. Choking occurs frequently
2. Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
3. Tongue is large and sticks out abnormally
Children and Teenagers:
1. Delayed adolescence.
2. Developmental delays
3. Slow growth rate
4. Permanent teeth development is delayed
Diagnosis and Treating of Hypothyroid Symptoms
Replacement synthetic thyroid hormones (levothyroxine) are the recommended treatment for hypothyroidism. Given as an oral medication, dosage will depend on the existing blood levels of thyroid hormones. The lower your own hormone level the more replacement hormone you will need. It takes approximately 1-2 weeks for optimum levels of hormone to be reached and symptoms begin to subside. Symptoms will gradually subside as therapeutic levels are maintained.
If symptoms do not improve after one month, increasing the dosage may be required. You should never increase any medication on your own. If symptoms continue consult your doctor for further instructions. Thyroid hormone level should be checked three months after beginning medication and periodically thereafter. Occasionally the replacement may be too high and symptoms of overactive thyroid present. These symptoms would include:
- Appetite increase
- Heart palpitations
Side effects of thyroid hormone replacement (levothyroxine) are few and usually no side effects occur at all. If hormone replacement therapy is halted, hypothyroid symptoms will return. Most people will need to take the medication for the rest of their lives. Other considerations when taking thyroid hormone replacement is the interaction with other medications, foods and over the counter supplements such as calcium and iron. Check with your pharmacist for further instructions during treatment.
Hypothyroid symptoms are very manageable with proper treatment. For those with only slightly low thyroid hormone, lifestyle change including diet and exercise may boost the body just enough to raise its own levels of thyroid hormone. This is the best outcome when it is an appropriate approach. You should discuss which options are best for you.