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Fatigued or Full Throttle: Is Your Thyroid to Blame?

Understanding Thyroid Problems -- Symptoms and Treatments
(continued)

What Is an Underactive Thyroid? continued...

Approximately 25 million people suffer with hypothyroidism and about half are undiagnosed. Older adults -- particularly women -- are more likely to develop hypothyroidism than younger adults. Hypothyroidism also tends to run in families.

If hypothyroidism is not treated, it can raise your cholesterol levels and make you more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. During pregnancy, untreated hypothyroidism can harm your baby. Luckily, hypothyroidism is easy to treat.

Causes of hypothyroidism may include:

Hashimoto's thyroiditis: In this autoimmune disorder, the body attacks thyroid tissue. The tissue eventually dies and stops producing hormones. Other autoimmune disorders occur with this condition and other family members may also be affected by this condition.

Removal of the thyroid gland: The thyroid may be surgically removed or chemically destroyed as treatment for hyperthyroidism.

Exposure to excessive amounts of iodide: The heart medicine amiodarone may expose you to too much iodine. Radioactive iodine treatment for hyperthyroidism can also result in hypothyroidism. You may be at greater risk for developing hypothyroidism, especially if you have had thyroid problems in the past.

Lithium: This drug has also been linked as a cause of hypothyroidism.

If left untreated for a long period of time, hypothyroidism can bring on a myxedema coma, a rare but potentially fatal condition that requires immediate hormone injections.

How Is Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism Diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and do a physical exam. Then he or she will order blood tests to see how much thyroid hormone your body is making. In addition, your doctor may discover that you have hyperthyroidism while doing a test for another reason.

Signs and Symptoms of a Thyroid Problem:

  • You may feel nervous, moody, weak, or tired.
  • Your hands may shake, your heart may beat fast, or you may have problems breathing.
  • You may be sweaty or have warm, red, itchy skin.
  • You may have more bowel movements than usual.
  • You may have fine, soft hair that is falling out.
  • You may feel tired, weak, and/or depressed.
  • You may have dry skin and brittle nails.
  • You may have difficulty standing cold temperatures.
  • You may have constipation.
  • You may experience memory problems or trouble thinking clearly.
  • You may have heavy or irregular menstrual periods.
  • You may lose weight even though you eat the same or more than usual.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism occur slowly over time. At first you might not notice these symptoms. Or you might mistake them for normal aging. This is not normal aging. See your doctor if you have symptoms like these that get worse or won't go away.

Pregnancy, which requires an increased production of thyroid hormone, can cause hypothyroidism. About 2% of pregnant women in the United States get hypothyroidism.

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