What is Hypothyroidism?

By  , Expert Content
Mar 19, 2012

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone. The thyroid gland is present in the front part of the neck just below the Adam's apple (or the thyroid cartilage). It is a butterfly shaped gland, which has 2 lobes (the right lobe and the left lobe). The two lobes are joined by a narrow piece of tissue called isthmus.

The 2 main types of cells that make the thyroid gland include:

  • Thyroid follicular cells: These cells make thyroid hormone. The hormone plays an important role in regulating the way your body uses energy.
  • C cells (also called parafollicular cells): These make a hormone known as calcitonin (the hormone regulates the use of calcium in the body)

The two different forms of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream are T4 and T3. These thyroid hormones have different number of iodine units or atoms present in the hormone. Iodine is needed for synthesis of thyroid hormone.

  • T4—it is the thyroid hormone with four iodine units (and is abbreviated as T4). It is the most abundant type of thyroid hormone in the blood.
  • T3—it has three iodine units (and is abbreviated as T3). It is the active form of the hormone in the body.

Hypothyroidism can affect a person of any age, but it is more common in older adults and those, who have a family history of hypothyroidism. Women older than 60 years are at the highest risk of developing hypothyroidism.

What causes hypothyroidism?

There are many causes of hypothyroidism. Some of the common causes are:

  • Hashimoto's thyroiditis (a condition in which the body’s immune system attack thyroid tissue because of which the gland can't make enough thyroid hormone).
  • Iodine deficiency (the gland needs iodine to make thyroid hormones).
  • Surgical removal of thyroid gland.
  • Certain viral infections.
  • Radiation therapy to gland for cancer.
  • Some drugs such as lithium.

What are the symptoms?

If the level of thyroid hormone is decreased, your body gets affected. It can cause symptoms such as tiredness, fatigue, depression, dry skin and brittle nails, not being able to stand the cold (cold intolerance), constipation, memory problems or having trouble thinking clearly, heavy or irregular menstrual periods etc.

Symptoms develop and progress slowly. Fortunately, hypothyroidism is easy to treat. Your doctor will do tests to confirm the diagnosis and if you have hypothyroidism, he or she will prescribe thyroid hormone pills to treat it.



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