Healthy Living

Hypothyroidism: The Top 10 Questions

1 Is Hypothyroidism Caused by Obesity?

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ present in the base of neck which is responsible for releasing hormones that regulate our body’s metabolism. The thyroid's hormones regulate vital body functions including heart rate, breathing, muscle strength, body temperature, menstrual cycles, cholesterol levels, central and peripheral systems, body weight, and much more. Hypothyroidism refers to the condition where the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormones. As a result, our body’s metabolism slows down, resulting in weight gain. The most common causes of hypothyroidism are destruction or surgical removal of the thyroid gland or failure of your autoimmune system. The gland is surgically removed if a person has thyroid cancer. The deficiency of iodine in the body can also be responsible for this condition.

Excessive weight gains or difficulty losing weight is strongly linked to hypothyroidism. In fact, evidence suggests that even slight deviation in thyroid function can contribute to the development of regional obesity and the tendency to gain weight. Hence, if your doctor believes that hypothyroidism is the main cause of your obesity, he or she may perform blood tests to check your hormone levels.

2 Is Hypothyroidism Reversible?

Yes, hypothyroidism can be easily cured and reversed using thyroid hormone medicine. It is a synthetic thyroid replacement hormone, taken in the form of a tablet, which is very effective and reliable in treating hypothyroidism. Levothyroxine is one such synthetic hormone that replaces the natural thyroxine hormone. Once the treatment starts, you will have to visit your doctor regularly to make sure you are getting the right dose of medicine.

Initially, your doctor will take your regular blood tests to check if the correct dose of levothyroxine is reached. This may take some time to get right. he or she will first prescribe you a low dose of levothyroxine, which may gradually be increased, depending on how your body responds to it. In the majority of cases, hypothyroidism symptoms start to improve within the first week after beginning the treatment. All symptoms usually go away within a few months. However, people with poor health and older adults may take longer to respond to the medicine.

Once you have reached the right dose of medicine, the doctor will take your blood test once every year to check your hormone levels. If blood tests suggest that you have hypothyroidism, but you have very mild or no symptoms at all, you may not need treatment any further. However, you will be advised to get your hormone levels checked every few months to make sure your symptoms are not developing again.

Does Hypothyroidism Cause Anxiety?    

Although hyperthyroidism is more often associated with anxiety disorder and panic attacks, these conditions have been reported for hypothyroidism too. The thyroid hormones are known to create and regulate very important neurotransmitters including GABA, serotonin, and norepinephrine. When your thyroid gland dysfunctions and does not produce a sufficient amount of hormones, these neurotransmitters go out of control, causing panic attacks and anxiety. Some physical symptoms associated with hypothyroidism also make the condition worse. When people come to know that something is wrong with their health and start worrying too much about that, it also leads to psychological problems. Since hypothyroidism is associated with weight gain too, many patients find it difficult to lose weight during treatment. This also contributes to feelings of low self-esteem and anxiety. Hence, it becomes important to keep your hormone levels stable and seek treatment as soon as you realize that you have hypothyroidism.

It should be noted that stress itself is considered a major contributor to hypothyroidism. Therefore, in some cases, thyroid problems are the response to anxiety, not the cause. Besides anxiety, hypothyroidism is majorly known to cause depression, mental slowing, and other memory problems.

3 When Is Hypothyroidism Usually Diagnosed?

Many of the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism such as fatigue, constipation, dry skin, and cold intolerance are quite common. These symptoms can also be found in people with a normally functioning thyroid gland. Hence, it becomes hard to decode if the symptoms are related to the dysfunctional thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism is usually diagnosed if these symptoms persist for extended periods of time. For instance, if you feel cold even if others feel warm and you are experiencing fatigue and low levels of energy for long, the doctor may advice you to check for thyroid issues. The diagnosis is only done after the complete evaluation of the patient's symptoms, medical history, risk factors, family history, physical examination, and a blood test which confirms the diagnosis. The most definitive blood tests for diagnosing thyroid are the ones that measure the level of TSH and sometimes the level of thyroid hormone thyroxine. A low level of thyroxine and high level of TSH indicate the presence of hypothyroidism. Previously, doctors were not able to detect hypothyroidism until the worsening of symptoms, but doctors are now able to detect thyroid issues much earlier by using the sensitive TSH test, even before you experience symptoms. TSH tests also play a very crucial role in managing hypothyroidism.

It is also possible to test for hypothyroidism at home. You can test for hypothyroidism at home by checking your basal body temperature. The thyroid is often referred to as the thermostat of the body because it produces the hormone that helps keep our body warm. However, if there are issues with the thyroid, it is not able to keep our body at the right temperature. Hence, you can test your thyroid function yourself simply by measuring your basal body temperature.

Just keep a regular thermometer within your reach before you go to sleep. If it’s a mercury thermometer, shake it to get the temperature below 96 degrees. Immediately after waking up in the morning, before moving from bed, place the thermometer under your armpit and leave it for 10 minutes while you lie down. Get in a relaxing position and don’t move a lot. Take note of your temperature, the date, and the time. Repeat this process for 4 consecutive days. A normal temperature is 97.8 to 98.2 degrees F. If your temperature is consistently lower than 97.8 degrees, this may be an indication of hypothyroidism.

However, this is not an accurate diagnosis of a thyroid problem. Lab Testing of blood for TSH, T3, and T4 is the only way to confirm the presence of hypothyroidism.

4 How Is Hypothyroidism Treated?

Hypothyroidism is treated using synthetic thyroid hormone medicine. It is an oral medication that restores sufficient hormone levels, relieving the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism. This hormone is safe and reliable, but determining the right dosage according to your state often takes time. The aim of these hormones is to return your metabolic rate to normal. High dosage of these hormones quickly can cause side effects such as heart palpitations, insomnia, increased appetite, and shakiness or tremors. It can lead to serious medical problems like atrial fibrillation and coronary artery disease.

Once you have started the treatment, you will feel less fatigued after 1 or 2 weeks. These pills also lower your cholesterol levels gradually and may also reverse any weight gain. The treatment with levothyroxine is usually lifelong, but your doctor can reduce your dosage after checking your TSH level every year.

If your hypothyroidism is severe, your doctor may begin your treatment with a smaller dosage of hormones and gradually increase it. When used in the appropriate dose, Levothyroxine causes virtually no side effects. Make sure not to skip doses because you're feeling better. If you do, the symptoms of hypothyroidism can return.

5 Can Hypothyroidism Be Cured Permanently?

No, hypothyroidism cannot be cured permanently. Since the thyroid glands stop producing sufficient hormones in this condition, those natural hormones are replaced by synthetic hormones that are supplemented from outside. There is no way to make your thyroid gland release sufficient hormones naturally. Hence, there is no permanent cure. Because the hormones required to get metabolism rate to normal are supplemented from outside, it can’t be considered a permanent cure. Your symptoms can improve over time with regular dosage, but your TSH levels need to be checked regularly as advised by your doctor.

6 Can Hypothyroidism Cause Cancer?

Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a thyroid condition known to increasing the risk of thyroid cancer. This is a condition where our body's immune system makes antibodies that damage the thyroid and interfere with the production of thyroid hormones, known to regulate the body’s metabolism. It is an autoimmune disease and also the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Hence, hypothyroidism cannot cause cancer, but it can be its accompanying symptom.

7 Is It Thyroid Disease or Thyroid Cancer?

Thyroid disease refers to the condition when your thyroid gland doesn't produce the sufficient amount of hormones your body needs. While an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) releases too much thyroid hormone, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) releases too little. 

Hyperthyroidism speeds up your metabolism and causes the following symptoms:

  • Nervousness and irritability
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle weakness
  • Anxiety and panic attacks

Hypothyroidism slows down your body's metabolism and causes the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Depression
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Dry or flaky skin
  • Infertility
  • Hair loss
  • Trouble with concentration 
  • Other memory problems
  • Possible anxiety and panic attacks

Thyroid cancer, on the other hand, refers to the condition where there is an abnormal growth of cells in the thyroid gland. It differs from other thyroid diseases in the way that other problems typically result from alterations in thyroid hormone production. Other thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are quite common, but thyroid cancer is extremely rare. Moreover, unlike other thyroid diseases as mentioned above, thyroid cancer does not show any symptoms. When the thyroid tumors become too large, it may cause swallowing, voice, or breathing problems.

The only common thing between thyroid cancer and other thyroid conditions is that they cannot be prevented.

8 What Foods Are Good for Hypothyroidism?

The following are a few foods you should add to your diet if you have hypothyroidism:

  • Leafy vegetables: Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, and other vegetables are great sources of magnesium, a crucial mineral that plays a vital role in your body processes. Eating leafy greens will give you relief from symptoms such as muscle cramps, fatigue, and changes in your heartbeat.
  • Nuts: Nuts including almonds, cashews, and pumpkin seeds are perfect sources of iron. They are very helpful for your thyroid. Brazil nuts and hazelnuts are a great source of selenium, which helps our thyroid to work properly.
  • Seafood: Seafood including fish, seaweed, and shrimp are great sources of iodine. You need iodine for a healthy thyroid, but avoid large amounts as it may make your condition worse.
  • Whole Grains: One of the common symptoms of hypothyroidism is constipation. Whole-grain foods are rich in fiber and other nutrients, which can help in smooth bowel movements and relieve constipation. Some of these foods include bread, cereal, pasta, and rice. However, the high intake of fiber can interfere with your treatment of synthetic thyroid hormones too. Hence, you must discuss with your doctor about diet recommendation.  
  • Beans: If you are experiencing excessive fatigue due to hypothyroidism, you should eat beans. Beans are a great source of energy and also rich in fiber, which can be beneficial if you are suffering from constipation. Beans contain antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, protein, and lots of vitamins and minerals

In general, all the foods that are rich in iodine and selenium are good for hypothyroidism patients.

9 Is Hypothyroidism a Metabolic Disorder?

A metabolic disorder refers to the illness that develops when the body’s metabolism doesn’t work properly. This means that if body cannot properly process proteins, fats, sugars, or nucleic acids, it leads to metabolic illness.

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ present in the base of neck which is responsible for producing hormones that regulate our body’s metabolism. When these glands fail to produce sufficient hormones, the condition is called hypothyroidism, it affects body’s metabolism. Hence, you can say that hypothyroidism itself is not a metabolic disorder, but it can lead to metabolic disorders.