By Marc Courtiol
Hypothyroidism is the technical term that is used to explain an underactive thyroid. Essentially, it is a condition in which a person’s thyroid gland does not produce enough of some important hormones.
Traditionally, women over the age of 50 are the most likely candidates for developing hypothyroidism, but it can occur in anyone at most any age. As we all age, we are at an increasing risk of developing this condition, so it is important to have regular check-ups with your physician.
Effects on the body
Hypothyroidism creates a large disturbance among the body’s chemical reactions. Specifically, it creates an imbalance among these chemicals, which results in the development of symptoms that may range from mild to severe. For the most part, the symptoms of hypothyroidism develop slowly over a period of years before they become noticeable.
There are a number of symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, including the following:
- Dry skin
- Weight gain (that is unexplained)
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Muscle weakness
- Joints that are stiff, achy, or painful
- Muscle aches and pains
When this condition continues to go untreated, the symptoms tend to become more serious. Some of the more severe symptoms that are associated with hypothyroidism include forgetfulness and slower thought processes.
Advanced cases of hypothyroidism are actually quite rare, but they can be life-threatening. Some of the symptoms of this condition, known as myxedema, include decreased breathing, low blood pressure, unresponsiveness, and decreased body temperature. This particular condition can be fatal, so it is important to seek medical attention right away if you experience any of these symptoms.
Most people who are diagnosed with hypothyroidism have to take a daily dose of a synthetic hormone that restores hormone levels to appropriate levels. The majority of patients begin to actually notice the changes that are occurring within their bodies within one or two weeks after starting a daily treatment.
People who have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism generally need to take medication for the rest of their lives, though specific dosages may need to be altered somewhat from time to time. Some individuals, particularly those who suffer from heart disease, may have to begin by taking smaller doses of a synthetic hormone and gradually increase the dosage over time. This can help to gradually introduce the heart to the increases in metabolism that start to take place with the regular use of the prescribed medications.
In some cases, it is safe and acceptable for people to try some alternative treatments that may be just as effective as synthetic hormones. Doctors sometimes recommend that patients take natural extracts that contain thyroid hormone, which is derived from the thyroid glands of pigs. These natural alternatives contain triiodothyronine and thyroxine. The natural extracts are just as effective for many people, and doctors often recommend that patients try them if they are comfortable with the idea.
The extracts must be obtained with a prescription, so it is important not to confuse them with glandular concentrates that are sold in health food stores.