What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a disease of the thyroid gland in which the thyroid gland produces less thyroid hormone (T3 and T4) than the body needs.


How common is it?

While the incidence of clinical hypothyroidism ranges between 0.1-2%, subclinical hypothyroidism is quite common, 4-10%, and its incidence increases in older women.


What are the causes of hypothyroidism?

The causes of hypothyroidism may be acquired or congenital and may be caused by the thyroid gland itself (primary) or by diseases arisen from the brain, at the thyroid control centre, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland (central). Common causes of primary hypothyroidism are:

  • chronic autoimmune thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • iodine treatment
  • its surgical removal (thyroidectomy) and
  • some medications.

Hypothyroidism can be permanent or transient, as it happens in postpartum period, the so-called postpartum thyroiditis.


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What are the symptoms and signs?

In the early stages, hypothyroidism may not cause symptoms. Symptoms usually develop slowly and depend on the severity of the thyroid hormone deficiency:

  • Fatigue
  • Cold Intolerance
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Menstrual irregularities in women
  • Hair thinning
  • Brittle nails
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)

How is hypothyroidism diagnosed?

Hypothyroidism is diagnosed by blood tests, physical examination and history. Sometimes, an ultrasound of the thyroid is required to investigate the cause. While other times taking the history points to its cause.


What are the complications of hypothyroidism?

In the early stages, hypothyroidism does not usually cause serious health problems. However, over time, if left untreated, it can lead to health problems such as:

  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Increase in cholesterol
  • Infertility
  • Anaemia
  • Obesity
  • Birth defects (in pregnancy)
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Goiter (enlargement of the thyroid)
  • Myxoedema, coma

How is hypothyroidism treated?

Treatment of hypothyroidism includes replacement of the deficient thyroid hormone, per os with a pill, and periodic monitoring is recommended.