Doctors affectionately call the thyroid gland a butterfly of life. This is because the shape of the thyroid resembles that of butterfly coupled with the critical role this organ plays in sustaining life. The thyroid unconditionally plays a role in all organ function.
The thyroid gland is responsible for producing two hormones, which are triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The primary function of T3 and T4 is T to ensure a normal rate of biochemical reactions takes place within the body. If for some reason the thyroid gland insufficiently produces hormone secretion it can be expected that metabolism will slow down. In this setting of hypothyroidism, abnormally slowed metabolism leads to major health complications.
For example, hypothyroidism slows the breakdown of cholesterol resulting in increased deposits within the walls of blood vessels. This leads to early onset atherosclerosis, which results in increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and damage to kidneys, legs, and stomach.
Low thyroid hormone levels adversely affect human maturation. When this condition is present in women of childbearing age, this can even prevent pregnancy. Abnormal thyroid function is also associated with slowed intellectual development in both adults and children. In addition to these examples, there are many other health consequences that humans suffer as a result of abnormal thyroid function.
A critical danger associated with hypothyroidism is that in many instances it can remain undetectable for an extended period of time. The primary symptoms of this condition are lethargy, drowsiness, memory impairment, increased hair loss, leg swelling, menstrual irregularity in women, and/or frequent colds. Some of these signs and symptoms are intrinsic to other diseases, whereas some may simply be attributed to normal fatigue and stress of life.
The degree of effect that hypothyroidism has on the health of the body may differ person-to-person. There are some that are highly sensitive to even minimal levels of thyroid hormone deficiency, whereas others are able to tolerate severe hypothyroidism and still feel satisfied. Because of this, a competent doctor will never diagnose hypothyroidism by only the presence of symptoms. A patient will also typically undergo a battery of laboratory testing, which will include a deep analysis of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels.
TSH is not produced by the thyroid gland, but instead the pituitary gland. With the help of this hormone, the body is able to control functionality of the thyroid gland. If the thyroid gland suddenly begins to decrease in activity, the pituitary gland is able to immediately sense this abnormality and can be expected to quickly begin producing TSH. The slower a thyroid gland functions, the higher the TSH level can be expected to circulate in the blood.
It is easier to monitor TSH levels than it is to spend effort in analyzing thyroid hormone levels. This is because thyroid hormone content in blood can markedly fluctuate during the day while being influenced by many factors. By contrast, TSH is comparatively more stable as it remains within blood for about 6-8 weeks. Therefore, TSH analysis provides an opportunity to evaluate thyroid function for the prior 1.5-2 months. If TSH levels are higher than normal, this may suggest the presence of hypothyroidism. Diagnostic guidelines may differ depending on the laboratory, whereas frequently the optimal limits for TSH are from 0.4 to 4.0 mU/L, which suggests 4.1 mU/L is equivalent to hypothyroidism.
There is a broad spectrum of reasons that can lead to the development of hypothyroidism. One of the most frequent causes is autoimmune thyroiditis, which is a disease where the immune system attacks cells of the thyroid gland by mistaking them for foreign pathogens. Thyroid gland cells that are damaged are not able to fully function. This results in less production of thyroid hormones than are required.
Another common cause of hypothyroidism is the lack of iodine in the body, which serves as a building material for thyroid hormones. Other factors that can lead to decreased activity of the thyroid gland include adverse environmental conditions, exposure to toxins, etc. However, not all underlying causes of thyroid gland dysfunction have been identified. There are still cases where doctors are not able to identify the root cause of hypothyroidism.
Fortunately, treatment of hypothyroidism is not dependent on knowing where the condition originated from. The main objective when treating hypothyroidism is to manage the present condition and eliminate the deficiency in hormone production. To achieve this goal, prescriptions for the drugs Levothyroxine and/or Synthroid are recommended as effective therapies.
Endocrinologists do not consider hypothyroidism as a complex condition because it can be easily treated. However, individuals with hypothyroidism must demonstrate patience in order to identify a suitable dose of medicine. If the required dose is small, the risk of side effects will not increase much. By contrast, dosages that are excessive can cause an increased risk for complications. For example, patients may develop tachycardia or heart failure because the heart muscle is very sensitive to the level of thyroxine.
In general, therapeutic dosing is based on the results of laboratory tests whereby a doctor provides the patient with an individual specific prescription. Within the following 1.5-2 months, it is necessary for patients to come back to the clinic for follow-up analysis of TSH levels. If levels are within normal limits, it is typically decided that the medication can continue to be used at the initial prescribed dose. However, if TSH levels are higher or lower than normal standards, medication dosing should be adjusted accompanied by another clinic visit within the next 1.5-2 months whereby the control analysis is performed once more. This practice typically continues until the proper therapeutic dosage is identified.
After proper pharmacotherapy dosing has been identified, health risks associated with hypothyroidism are minimized. For example, women previously unable to become pregnant are able to without problems. Others are able to lose weight, and work efficiency improves. As such, the main thing is that patients should not stop taking the prescribed medication. Unfortunately, for most cases of hypothyroidism, patients will have to take Levothyroxine for an entire lifetime, and have clinic visits once every 2-3 months to carry out control analyses of TSH. Thyroid gland activity can change over time, but it is still impossible to predict in advance how and when these changes may occur. Thus, to feel healthy and confident, it is important to keep up with the recommended course of therapy provided by the doctor.