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What is Hypothyroidism?

The thyroid gland is located in front of the neck, just above the collarbone. It produces thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), necessary for using energy, staying warm and the proper functioning of various body parts such as the brain, heart and muscles. Hypothyroidism refers to an underactive thyroid, where the hormones are produced in insufficient amounts. The condition is more likely to occur in women and those above 50 years of age.

Causes of Hypothyroidism

Common causes of hypothyroidism include autoimmune disorder, radiation therapy, thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland), viral infections, certain medications, pituitary (organ that controls the functioning of the thyroid) tumor or surgery, abnormal amounts of iodine, and surgical removal of the thyroid gland in cases of diseases such as cancer.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Symptoms of hypothyroidism usually begin slowly which include increased sensitivity to cold temperature, fatigue, dry skin, forgetfulness, constipation, or depression.

Diagnosis of Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed by reviewing your medical history and by performing a thorough physical examination. Your doctor may order blood tests (thyroid function tests) to confirm the diagnosis. This test measures the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which controls the functioning of the thyroid gland and T4 in the blood. A raised level of TSH and a low level of T4 in the blood could mean you have hypothyroidism.

Treatment for Hypothyroidism

Treatment involves prescribing synthetic thyroxine medication. You may start on a low dose, which is gradually increased depending upon your body’s response. Initially, your doctor will order blood tests every 2 to 3 months to check your hormone levels until the correct dose is reached, following which a yearly follow-up is ordered.