The thyroid gland is situated in the frontal region of the neck. Having right and left lobes gives the gland a butterfly-like appearance. The thyroid produces and releases triiodothyronine-T3 and thyroxine-T4 hormones that affect every system in the body from brain development and function along with the cardiovascular system to the digestive, reproductive and respiratory systems. The thyroid affects these systems by regulating the way in which cells use energy. When the gland functions at less than optimum levels, hypothyroidism causes a decrease in available thyroid hormones. Individuals afflicted with the condition experience various symptoms that are dependent on the severity of the condition.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Proper diagnosis and testing remain vital to receiving the appropriate treatment. The most common symptoms of the condition include:
• Generalized fatigue
• An inability to lose weight or unexplained weight gain
• Weight loss in the elderly
• Intolerance to cold temperatures
• Dry skin and brittle nails
• Thinning hair or hair loss
• Diarrhea in the elderly
• Unexplained muscle and joint pain
• Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
• Heavy or irregular menstruation
• Diminished fertility
• Brain fog
• Memory loss
• Loss of sexual desire
In severe cases, patients may experience slowed speech patterns, have jaundiced skin and eyes. The tongue may also swell.
Thyroid Testing and Diagnosis
When a slightly malfunctioning, hypothyroidism symptoms are often confused and misdiagnosed as being other ailments. Unless in cases of extreme hypothyroidism, patients do not typically experience a long list of symptoms. One patient may notice that in addition to gaining weight, they also have abnormal hair loss and brittle nails. Another may suffer from depression, irritability and continual fatigue despite the fact that they eat healthy and get the recommended hours of sleep.
Diagnosis and Testing
When someone suspects that the symptoms they are experiencing might be related to hypothyroidism, they should consult with a physician. Provide as much information as possible concerning the onset, type and severity of symptoms. A physical exam may reveal swelling in the neck region where the gland is situated. Blood tests that confirm or eliminate the thyroid as a causative factor involve evaluating thyroid stimulating hormone and T4 levels. Thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH is released by the pituitary gland and normal levels are around 0.4 miliunits per liter. Physicians diagnose hypothyroidism when the level reaches 4.0 or higher. The normal levels of T4 are between 5 to 13.5 micrograms per deciliter. Levels below this range indicate a malfunctioning thyroid.
The malfunction may occur at any time in anyone from the age of infancy upward. However, hypothyroidism is more often found in women during pregnancy, following labor and delivery and around the age of menopause. The condition is particularly common in women over the age of 50.