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Thyroid Gland Disorders: Hypothyroidism


Hypothyroidism is where the thyroid is underactive (i.e., produces an insufficient amount of thyroid hormones). Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder . Severe hypothyroidism can lead to a condition called myxedema , characterised by dry, thickened skin and course facial features. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is the body's autoimmune reaction to itself, producing antibodies against the thyroid gland. One such autoimmune disorder is called Hashimoto's thyroiditis , an inflammation of the thyroid gland. Other causes include treatment of hyperthyroidism such as radioactive iodine treatment or surgery.

Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms of hypothyroidism are usually very subtle and gradual and may be mistaken for symptoms of depression. However, each individual may experience the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism differently.
If left untreated, hypothyroidism may lead to anaemia , low body temperature, and heart failure.
A condition called secondary hypothyroidism sometimes occurs as a result of a failing pituitary gland. When the pituitary gland fails, it no longer stimulates the thyroid to produce thyroid hormones.
In underdeveloped countries, a chronic lack of iodine in the diet (needed to produce thyroid hormones) is a major cause of hypothyroidism. This cause of hypothyroidism has virtually disappeared in the US and Western World.

Diagnosis and Treatment

In addition to a complete medical history and medical examination, diagnostic procedures for hypothyroidism may include blood tests to measure levels of thyroid hormones and the thyroid-stimulating hormones produced by the pituitary gland.
The goal of treatment is to restore the thyroid gland to normal function, producing normal levels of thyroid hormones. Treatment may include prescription of thyroid hormones to replace the deficient hormones. Dosage of thyroid hormone may need to be increased over the years. Annual or biannual check-ups are usually required to ensure the proper dosage of thyroid hormones is taken. A patient usually takes thyroid hormones for the rest of his/her life.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. University of Maryland Medical System Online Health Guides:

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Contact Last modified: Jul 9 2002