Sleepiness, feeling cold, skin dryness and weight gain – these are some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism. The disease can be detected by measuring specific hormones in blood. When untreated, it may lead to circulatory system diseases.
The disease is five times more common in women than in men – its incidence for women is 5-7%, and 1% for men. The risk of hypothyroidism increases with age, but the disease is also found in children and young people.
Hypothyroidism is caused by the deficiency of thyroid hormones. It is worth seeing a doctor if blood tests with the measurement of specific hormones show an increased concentration of TSH and normal levels of T4 and T3 or a lowered concentration of fT4.
The initial stage of the diseases, which is called latent hypothyroidism, can progress without the patient’s knowing about the disease, because the symptoms are not very specific and can be mistaken with general fatigue, discomfort or ageing.
The symptoms include chronic fatigue, problems with memory, the slowing down of thinking processes, depressive moods, weight gain, skin dryness and feeling cold. The symptoms are associated with an increased concentration of cholesterol and triglycerides in blood, which in turn contribute to a greater risk of sclerosis and heart attack.
In women in the reproductive age latent hypothyroidism may not present itself with any symptoms, but it can contribute to difficulties with getting pregnant as well as cause problems during the pregnancy and later with the child’s mental development.
Latent hypothyroidism occurs much more often than the symptomatic variation of the disease, i.e. in 4-10% of total population and 20% of people aged 60 or more.
If the latent form of the disease is not detected and treated, it can develop into the full symptomatic form, with such additional symptoms as slowed down mental and motor functions, hair loss, constipation, eyelid and face swelling, hoarse voice, and muscle pain. The typical symptoms also include knees and elbows discolouration and poor eyesight in dim light.
Some women experience menstruation disorders manifesting themselves with haemorrhagic menstruation and decreased fertility. In turn, after getting pregnant such women may suffer from anaemia and hypertension, increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth or stillbirth, as well as postpartum haemorrhage.
The child of a woman who during her pregnancy had untreated or insufficiently treated hypothyroidism may have a low birth weight and weaker mental and physical development.
The causes and treatment of hypothyroidism
Among the causes of the disease are, among others, the Hashimoto’s disease, i.e. chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, de Quervain syndrome, strumectomy (surgical resection of the thyroid), neck radiation and the use of some medicines.
The disease may also be caused by neoplasms or hypophysitis and hypothalamic inflammation, neurological surgery or radiation in the area of the pituitary gland or hypothalamus.
In some cases hypothyroidism may be inborn, and it is diagnosed through a THS concentration screening test carried out in neonates in the third day of their lives.
The treatment of hypothyroidism consists of administering oral preparations of levothyroxine and periodic blood hormone tests. The treatment can improve the general disposition and mood of the patient and lower the level of cholesterol and triglycerides.