Hypothyroidism

The occurence of hypothyroidism in women is 3-8 times more frequent than in men. Lab tests indicate that at age 50, one out of every 10 women have some degree of thyroid dysfunction.

The thyroid is a small organ which is shaped like a butterfly and is located just over the windpipe. It secretes thyroxine which is a hormone regulating much of the growth of body tissues and the rate of many chemical reactions. Hyperthyroid means it is overly active and hypothyroid means it is underactive. Today I will just speak of hypothyroidism.

The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism are very similar to a number of other medical conditions and the aging process in general. A partial list of symptoms includes: weakness, tiredness, loss of energy, headache, loss of taste, hoarseness, weight gain, muscle cramps, shortness of breath, constipation, dry skin, loss of skin color, puffy face, and swelling of feet.

A diagnosis of hypothyroidism can be reached after a single simple blood test. This test will give both the level of the thyroid hormone thyroxine and thyroid stimulating hormone called TSH. When the pituitary gland in the brain senses a low level of thyroid hormone it releases this TSH to tell the thyroid to increase its production.

So if the TSH levels in the blood are high, it is a good indication that the thyroid is underactive. If the level of the thyroid hormone thyroxine is also low, it is an even stronger indicator that the body is hypothyroid.

The treatment is usually very simple. Your doctor will usually prescribe a daily tablet which contains synthetic thyroxine. These are available in many different strengths so that your physician can closely regulate the dose. Every few weeks your doctor will take a blood test until the hormones in the blood return to the proper levels. Then once a year your doctor will want to check the levels again in case the output from the thyroid gland has changed.

Thyroid medicines are inexpensive and only need to be taken once daily. Your pharmacist will keep you on the same brand since it is important to have the precise amount in your system and this can vary somewhat from brand to brand.

See your doctor for a check-up if you are experiencing signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism. Your pharmacist will also be glad to talk with you about your medication to help keep you well.