The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. It produces hormones that control metabolism. Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone. The most common form of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto thyroiditis.
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Hashimoto thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder. The immune system produces antibodies that attack cells of the thyroid gland.
Hypothyroidism may also be caused by:
- Congenital defects of the gland or how it works
- Iatrogenic—occurs as the result of surgery or radiation therapy for thyroid cancer treatment
- Iodine deficiency—rare in the US
- Pituitary deficiency
- Unknown reasons
Hypothyroidism is more common in women, and in those aged 65 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of hypothyroidism include:
- Family history of hypothyroidism
- Autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Certain health conditions, such as infiltrative disorders, cancer, or infections
- Surgery, radiation therapy, or radioablation in the neck region
- Certain medications, such as lithium, iodine, or interleukins
- Pituitary adenoma—benign tumor of the pituitary gland
You may not have symptoms of hypthyroidism. In those that have symptoms, hypothyroidism may cause:
- Coarse, brittle hair, and hair loss
- Facial puffiness
- Dry skin
- Swollen hands or feet
- Cold intolerance
- Weight gain
- Achy feeling all over
- Depression and irritability
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Blurred vision
- Menstrual abnormalities or infertility
Symptoms of severe or long-term hypothyroidism causes:
- Slow heart rate
- Depressed breathing
- Hypothermia—low body temperature
Thyroid replacement therapy involves taking medications that replace the function of the thyroid gland. This therapy may also prevent cancer cell growth in people who had surgery or radiation treatment for thyroid cancer.
People with Hashimoto thyroiditis are monitored as long as they have normal thyroid function and remain symptom-free. Once function decreases or symptoms appear, treatment is started with thyroid replacement therapy.
There are no current guidelines to prevent hypothyroidism.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and United States Preventive Services Task Force recommend screening all newborns for congenital hypothyroidism. If you are at high risk for developing hypothyroidism, talk to your doctor about annual screening.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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a (Hashimoto's Thyroiditis; Underactive Thyroid)
The American Thyroid Association http://www.thyroid.org
Office on Women's Health http://womenshealth.gov
Canadian Institute for Health Information http://www.cihi.ca
Thyroid Foundation of Canada http://www.thyroid.ca
Escobar-Morreale HF, Botella-Carretero JI, Escobar del Rey F, et al. Treatment of hypothyroidism with combinations of levothyroxine plus liothyronine. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005;90(8):4946-4954.
Hypothyroidism in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115914/Hypothyroidism-in-adults . Updated July 12, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.
Roberts CG, Ladenson PW. Hypothyroidism. Lancet. 2004;363(9411):793-803.
Surks MI, Ortiz E, Daniels GH, et al. Subclinical thyroid disease: scientific review and guidelines for diagnosis and management. JAMA. 2004;291(2):228-238.
Thyroid hormone treatment. American Thyroid Association website. Available at: http://www.thyroid.org/thyroid-hormone-treatment. Accessed December 14, 2015.