Hypothyroidism is a disease that affects the metabolic rate and energy levels of the body. It is characterized by a defect in the thyroid gland that reduces the production of thyroid hormones, the hormones responsible for regulating the metabolism of the body. Hypothyroidism is characterized by fatigue and weakness, both of which make the affected person sluggish and feel devoid of energy. Often referred to as an underactive thyroid, it is caused (commonly) by the autoimmune disorder named Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Inflammation of the thyroid gland or an infection by a virus causes thyroiditis. Other causes include pituitary damage, radioactive iodine therapy, a diet having insufficient iodine, radiation therapy, a birth defect, or in a rare case wherein the hypothalamus fails to produce TRH (thyroid releasing hormone). In severe cases, a person with hypothyroidism may develop myxedema (skin swelling).
A person who has hypothyroidism may find it hard to concentrate on work, and this may happen even when on medication. Many patients may feel cold when others around them are feeling warm, may gain weight despite continued efforts toward losing some. Swelling of the neck (goiter) is also a common sign of it. Thus, all these affect the overall quality of life of the person with an underactive thyroid.
First and foremost in controlling symptoms is early diagnosis and treatment. The most common treatment option for hypothyroidism is hormone replacement therapy, in which a synthetic form of the hormone thyroxine is used to replace the deficient hormone in the body. At the same time, additional steps like exercising and strictly adhering to a healthy diet should be implemented.
Things to remember:
- Be consistent in taking the prescribed medication.
- Know about the symptoms of low and excess dosage of the medication.
- Follow your doctor's orders with regard to your next check-up and blood test--having your hormone levels checked periodically throughout your life is important in maintaining good health despite your condition.
- Know about other medications and conditions that affect the thyroid medication.
Along with the medication, some lifestyle changes also help in alleviating the symptoms of the condition.
Having good energy levels is the best way to avoid the daytime sleepiness and fatigue associated with hypothyroidism. This can be achieved by having a well-balanced diet. Have small quantities of nutrient-rich meals spread throughout the day help improve energy levels. A healthy diet rich in fiber and low in fat will also help in reducing body weight, one of the common symptoms of hypothyroidism. Avoid cruciferous food like soy products, cauliflower, horseradish, cabbage, collard greens, millet, kale, and broccoli. Such goitrogenic foods hinder the hormone releasing process of the thyroid gland. Avoid fast food, alcohol, excessive fiber, sodium, and iodine in the daily diet. Exert caution and consult your doctor before using heavily advertised alternative medicines as they may not always be what they say they are.
Do maintain your blood sugar level within the normal range as a high level of sugar in the blood could eventually lead to the restriction of nutrient entry into cells. Avoid foods high in glycemic content (refer to a glycemic index) such as refined carbohydrates.
One should remember that there is no miracle diet to improve thyroid function. But planning the diet helps in meeting the most important goal of health and fitness.
A healthy diet never means eating less. Dieting can prove to be detrimental if done the wrong way, so it would be wise to seek the opinion of a dietitian or nutritionist.
Hypothyroidism is characterized by a sluggish metabolism, and therefore exercise will often be the least tempting thing to do for one suffering the symptoms of hypothyroidism. But if you look at it, exercise is the best way to boost energy levels. It also helps reduce body weight and lower stress levels. Hypothyroidism may cause an increase in cholesterol levels, a major risk factor for heart diseases. Exercise is the right way to control cholesterol levels in the body. Activities of moderate intensity like brisk walking are ideal for achieving all these benefits of exercise.
With the clearance of your doctor, devise an exercise regimen with a good balance between cardiovascular exercise, which boosts mood and appetite, and strength training, which helps in burning calories and fat to lose weight gained due to an underactive thyroid.
Stress is a major factor that not only brings about various disorders but worsens the symptoms and effects of hypothyroidism. Coping with or managing daily stress is very helpful in controlling the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Practice relaxation methods like yoga, meditation, and breathing techniques, or get involved in interesting activities that keep stress at bay.
Keep a journal of your everyday thoughts and worries. This might seem like a pointless task, but writing even a few words about your daily burdens would help relieve you of your anxieties and make you feel better. Join a support group if possible, and engage in fun social activities.
Hypothyroidism may have a negative effect on one's ability to get sound sleep at night, even when you try not to sleep during the day. Adopt techniques that will help you have a relaxing and restful sleep at night. Following a set sleep pattern and time and having a cool bedroom are some such techniques. Avoid caffeine in the evening to get good sleep. Do not break your circadian rhythm by staying awake late. Resetting a circadian rhythm is difficult, so reserve your work hours for the morning and afternoon, and turn off all your gadgets an hour or two before sleeping.
6 to 8 hours of sleep would be apt for adults and children respectively.
Finally, do keep your appointments with your doctor and have the necessary blood tests done as ordered by him/her. Take medicines on time without fail. Drink lots of water and use caution when using supplements. More than anything else, it is important to listen to the changes in your body. Each person responds differently to treatment and other situations. Listening to and understanding the changes will help in identifying the problems and solutions sooner.
Hypothyroidism is not a grueling disease and following your doctor's orders and a well-structured action plan to have a health-promoting lifestyle makes it an easily managed condition.