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Hypothyroidism is a medical condition that occurs when the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid-stimulating hormone, making it underactive. This hormone controls a number of functions in the body and without it working properly, can cause obesity, heart disease, joint pain, infertility and other severe health problems. This condition can also cause a number of less acute symptoms such as fatigue, constipation, sensitivity to cold and muscle weakness.

Testing for thyroid function is frequently done for individuals over the age of 60 in order to ensure that there are no thyroid function issues. However, because many people develop thyroid function issues before this age, the condition frequently goes undiagnosed.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications

Hypothyroidism can occur in both young and old patients for many reasons. For example, it can be the result of a surgery or a radioactive iodine treatment for hyperthyroidism. The treatment can cause the thyroid to shut down entirely or simply to stop functioning properly, which can lead to a lack of production of thyroid hormone. Treatments for hyperthyroidism are just some of the potential causes for hypothyroidism. Other potential causes include: medications, radiation therapy, thyroid surgery and autoimmune diseases.

When hypothyroidism is left untreated, there are several complications that can occur. Some of the most common complications include: goiter, heart problems, mental health issues, myxedema, peripheral neuropathy, infertility and severe birth defects. Some complications such as myxedema can be life threatening. Because there are so many potential complications for untreated hypothyroidism, it is important to seek medical assistance when symptoms begin to appear.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests

The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary significantly depending on how severe the hormone deficiency is. When symptoms do exist, they tend to start slowly and can take several years to develop fully. The most common symptoms associated with hypothyroidism include: fatigue, constipation, increased cold sensitivity, dry skin, weight gain, swollen face, hoarseness, elevated levels of blood cholesterol, muscle weakness, joint swelling, joint pain, muscle ache, irregular or heavy menstrual periods, thinning hair, impaired memory, depression and slower-than-normal heart rate.

The fastest or most effective way to diagnose a thyroid condition is to take blood and examine it in conjunction with symptoms presented by the patient. Blood tests measuring the level of thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH will help the physician determine whether or not the organ is working properly.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention

The standard treatment for hypothyroidism involves administering a synthetic thyroid hormone daily. There are several different options, including Levothroid and Synthroid, to choose from, which can help restore the body to the right level of hormones. These oral medications can reverse the signs and symptoms of this condition. The biggest issue with treating hypothyroidism is that it can take time before finding the right dosage of the synthetic thyroid hormone. When the thyroid hormone is used in the right dosage, patients with hypothyroidism can experience complete relief from symptoms of the deficiency.