Shishir Murarka, MD, is an internal medicine physician and hospitalist at Banner Estrella Medical Center. His office can be reached at 623-327-7313.
Question: What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism and how is an inactive thyroid treated?
Answer: Many people have heard of the thyroid gland but may not know exactly where it is or what it does. The thyroid is a bowtie-shaped gland that wraps around the windpipe near the front lower portion of the neck. Its job is to produce several important hormones, which are responsible for making sure the body is functioning properly. For instance, the thyroid helps produce and regulate energy, controls body temperature and manages metabolism.
An inactive thyroid, a condition known as hypothyroidism, no longer produces enough hormones, which upsets the body’s chemical balance and functions. Hypothyroidism is most common in women, especially older women, and is often the result of heredity, autoimmune disease, radiation, certain medications or injury to the thyroid gland.
Symptoms are typically subtle early on, which can sometimes make it difficult to diagnose. However, if hypothyroidism isn’t treated, symptoms become more obvious and can include: fatigue, constipation, weight gain, increased cholesterol, muscle weakness, joint pain and stiffness, and depression, among many others.
Numerous health problems may arise if hypothyroidism is not addressed or well-managed. Heart problems, goiter, nerve damage, obesity, infertility, and mental health issues are among the potential health complications.
Once hypothyroidism is diagnosed, treatment is effective and safe. Oral medications that include a synthetic thyroid hormone, called levothyroxine, are taken daily for the rest of your life. Depending on how active your thyroid is, finding the right dose may take some time, but within a few months the body begins to regain its chemical balance.
If you experience unexplained symptoms, have a family history of hypothyroidism, or are concerned that your thyroid isn’t working properly, make an appointment with your physician to discuss your concerns.
Reviewed July 2010.