Hypothyroidism is quite common, with estimates of up to 20 million Americans being affected by some form of thyroid disorder. Of those, close to 60 percent of those affected have no idea they have this condition, and women are affected up to eight times as often as men.
Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function, occurs when the body can no longer produce sufficient amounts of thyroid hormones.
Understanding how all of the bodies’ hormones work in concert can help a patient to understand how treatment must be done for the best results. Let’s take a quick look at the steps in the process of producing critical thyroid hormones. The cycle is complex, and a breakdown in any of the steps can cause hypothyroidism to occur.
- When the thyroid hormones in the bloodstream are low, the brain area known as the hypothalamus responds by releasing more Thyroid Releasing Hormone, or TRH, which is taken up by the pituitary gland.
- The pituitary gland in turn produces Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH).
- TSH is the hormone that actually stimulates the thyroid gland to produce two thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
- These critical hormones are responsible for regulating many bodily functions such as temperature, heart rate, libido, and metabolic functions.
Hypothyroidism occurs when a disruption happens within this regulatory process due to damage to one of the key players in the cycle—the hypothalamus, pituitary gland or thyroid gland. The thyroid gland either becomes too damaged or is no longer receiving enough TSH from the brain to produce enough hormones to effectively regulate body functions.
How can I tell if I have an impaired thyroid?
One reason this disorder goes undiagnosed (or misdiagnosed) so often is that the symptoms tend to be vague, nonspecific and very often mimic other conditions such as depression, menopause or chronic fatigue. Since the thyroid is responsible for regulating body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and metabolic functions, a compromised thyroid can produce a staggering array of symptoms, such as:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Facial swelling
- Hearing loss
- Enlarged thyroid gland/goiter
- Muscle weakness
- High cholesterol levels
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain, stiffness or swelling
- Heavy or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair, thinning of the eyebrows
- Decreased heart rate
- Loss of concentration
- Impaired memory
- Decreased libido
- Myxedema, the most severe manifestation, visible in swelling of the skin and soft tissue (such as the tongue) with the most extreme cases falling into coma.
All patients with signs of menopause, depression and dementia should also be checked for hypothyroidism, since these abnormalities can usually be cured with the administration of thyroxine alone as a bioidentical hormone replacement therapy.
How can I know if I’m at risk for hypothyroidism?
The following factors increase the risk of developing hypothyroidism.
- You are over 60 years old.
- You are female—you’re up to eight times more at risk than men.
- You have a family history of thyroid disease.
- You have a medical history of an autoimmune disease.
- You have a history of taking anti-thyroid medications, such as for past issues with hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).
- You’ve had thyroid surgery as treatment for thyroid cancer.
- You have a medical history of type 1 diabetes.
- You have a medical history of rheumatoid arthritis.
- You have been exposed to radiation on your neck or upper chest, such as in treatment for cancer.
- You have had treatment with radioactive iodine for thyroid cancer.
The more of these factors that you have, the higher your risk of developing hypothyroidism. If you are experiencing some or many of the symptoms discussed above, and if you have one or several of these risk factors, you should discuss being tested for hypothyroidism with your doctor and possible treatment options, including BHRT.
Next Steps For Diagnosis
If a thyroid disorder is suspected, a physician will perform a TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone, blood test. This measure is a good indicator of how effectively the thyroid is working. If the TSH levels are high, the body is having to produce a great deal of this pre- hormone to stimulate the thyroid to work, indicating a hypothyroid condition (in which the gland is performing poorly). Basically, if there is too much TSH in the body, something is wrong in the cycle that regulates the thyroid and intervention is usually necessary. Sometimes, a thyroid nuclear scan and/or a thyroid ultrasound is needed to confirm the diagnosis achieved through blood tests.
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks and ultimately destroys the thyroid gland. Other causes are radiation to the thyroid gland, surgical removal (due to cancer), infection/inflammation, and insufficient iodine in the diet.
Treatment Through Bioidentical Hormones
A bioidentical hormone is a hormone that is identical on a molecular level to one produced in the body.
Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) is considered for those patients in which their symptoms are uncomfortable or unbearable. The bioidentical hormone used for the treatment of hypothyroidism is thyroxine (T4). By providing the body with the hormones that it needs, it is allowed to function normally (or better than has been typical for the patient) and symptoms can be decreased or even completely eradicated. Energy returns, blood pressure returns to normal, hair improves, periods become normal, and more.
Do I need hormone replacement therapy?
Most patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism will need to hormone replacement therapy to resolve their uncomfortable symptoms and to regain energy and normal body function. Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy with thyroxine generally allows a patient to once again maintain normal thyroid hormone levels and relieves the patient of their unpleasant symptoms, such as low energy, loss of concentration, low blood pressure, and decreased heart rate. A normal thyroid hormone level means that the body has what it needs to better regulate the body; this produces a more comfortable state without the negative symptoms associated with an under-performing thyroid.
While the effects of BHRT can be transformative, it’s critical to maintain proper dosage levels. This can require tweaking of the dosage over time. Regular visits to your physician will be required to determine the correct dosage. Since typically patients suffer from hypothyroidism because of damage to the thyroid gland rendering it unable to produce the necessary thyroid hormones that regulate a myriad of bodily functions, replacement therapy is usually a life-long treatment.
You don’t need to live with the effects of a low-functioning thyroid! Therapies such as BHRT allow physicians to treat the absence of the hormones that regulate thyroid function and can restore most individuals back to health. You can restore your hormone levels to normal with the addition of bioidentical hormones that mimic those that your own body is no longer producing. If you are suffering from hypothyroidism, be sure to seek a physician’s help and get back on the path to health and more comfortable living. To learn more about the services offered at our integrative health clinic in Lake Charles, get in contact with us today.