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Hypothyroidism, which occurs when an underactive thyroid does not produce enough hormones, can be a dangerous condition if untreated.
Instead of the bodily systems speeding up and overheating, they slow down in a variety of ways. This thyroid disease's symptoms include the following:
NOTE: The most severe expression of hypothyroidism may be referred to as myxedema. If you have severe hypothyroidism, a significant injury, infection, or exposure to cold or certain medications may trigger a life-threatening condition called myxedema coma. This condition may cause a patient to lose consciousness and to develop hypothermia, a life-threatening low body temperature.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
Hashimoto's Hashimoto's disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. It occurs when the immune system produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland, creating chronic inflammation that damages the gland and interferes with its ability to make enough thyroid hormone. It occurs more often in women than men, and tends to run in families.
Hypothyroidism can be traced to several other conditions as well, including:
Routine testing of babies at birth identifies any with congenital hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland has not developed properly. This testing is essential for all newborns, because if hypothyroidism in not treated, a child could experience mental slowness or retardation, or fail to grow normallly. Hypothyroidism during pregnancy can also negatively affect the baby. Experts have not yet reached a consensus as to whether all pregnant women should be routinely screened for thyroid hormone deficiency.
Hypothyroidism is increasingly common as we age. Women over 50 should consider being screened for thyroid deficiency every few years. Hypothyroidism affects as many as 15 percent of women over 70 years of age.
Treatments for Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is treated by replacing the thyroid hormone the body needs. This is usually done with an oral tablet or pill of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4 or levothyroxine). A person will usually notice an improvement in his or her health and decreased symptoms of thyroid disease within two weeks. Severe cases of hypothyroidism, however, may take longer to correct. Most patients with hypothyroidism will need to be on T4 treatment for the rest of their lives. They have to work closely with their doctor, take their medication as directed, and be monitored regularly in case the medication dose needs to be adjusted. If patients take too much T4, they can develop a mild case of hyperthyroidism. If they do not get enough, the symptoms of hypothyroidism will return.
A patient may need special attention if in addition to suffering from thyroid problems, he or she is: