If you have noted a sudden weight gain of around 5-6kgs in a month, are feeling too tired and lazy and disinterested in doing any kind of work , then probably you need to get tested for hypothyroidism.
When an under-active thyroid gland releases low levels of thyroid hormone into the circulation, it is termed as hypothyroidism. The symptoms of hypothyroidism are more general and are not specifically indicative of this disorder hence even in the absence of a genetic predisposition, one must get these levels checked often.
. Hypothyroidism signs and symptom may include:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in joints
- Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
Over time, if the deficiency persists and is not treated then it leads to enlargement of the gland termed as goitre and even leads to extreme forgetfulness, slowing of thought process and depression.
What leads to low thyroid hormones :
Autoimmune disease- Thyroid dysfunction may result from inflammation in the body and is termed as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. When a foreign body such as a bacteria or virus attacks our body, it produces several antibodies to fight it and sometimes in the process it may attack the healthy normal body cells also. If the thyroid gland is under such an attack then it leads to poor functioning of the gland and low levels of the thyroid hormones.
Surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid gland. In certain conditions such as presence of thyroid nodules, thyroid cancer, or Graves’ disease, a part or all of the thyroid gland may be required to be removed surgically. Such individuals suffer from hypothyroidism due to lack of the hormones.
Radiation treatment. SImilarly in Graves’ disease, nodular goiter, or thyroid cancer , treatment with radioactive iodine (I-131) is done in order to destroy the thyroid gland and eliminate the faulty cells. Even patients with Hodgkin’s disease, lymphoma, or cancers of the head or neck are who are treated by radiation may lose part or all of their thyroid function.
Congenital hypothyroidism . A few babies are born without a thyroid or with only a partly formed one. A few have part or all of their thyroid in the wrong place (ectopic thyroid). In some babies, the thyroid cells or their enzymes are not fully functional. In all of these circumstances the secretion and functioning of the thyroid hormones is compromised.
Medicines. Medications such as amiodarone, lithium, interferon alpha, and interleukin-2 can prevent the thyroid gland from being able to make hormone normally.
Too much or too little iodine. As we saw in our previous blog, iodine is required to produce the thyroid hormones. So maintaining sufficient iodine levels is very important. Although, usually food and water do provide iodine, certain belts where there is excessive leaching of iodine from the soil require iodised salt. However, one must remember that too much iodine can also have very detrimental effects on health.
Pituitary disorder. We know that pituitary gland signals release of thyroid hormones via its messenger TSH. Any damage or defect in the pituitary gland can affect this function thereby leading to poor secretion of the thyroid hormones.
Who is at risk?
Although anyone can develop hypothyroidism, you’re at an increased risk if you:
- Are a woman older than age 60
- Have an autoimmune disease
- Have a family history of thyroid disease
- Have other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, a chronic inflammatory condition
- Have been treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications
- Received radiation to neck or upper chest
- Have had thyroid surgery (partial thyroidectomy)
- Have been pregnant or delivered a baby within the past six months
TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) test : As discussed in our previous blog, normal TSH secretion is required to maintain optimum levels of thyroid hormones . When thyroid hormones are lower than normal levels in circulation, then TSH will increase in order to signal the gland to secrete more of the hormones. So increased TSH levels indicate that there is a need for more thyroid hormones to restore normal function which is the case in hypothyroidism.
T4 levels: Low Circulating free T4 levels (Thyroxine available for absorption into the tissues) in blood is indicative of hypothyroidism.
Thyroid disorders have very harmful effects in health and hence require immediate initiation of treatment. Hypothyroidism requires external supplementation of the hormones such that their functions can continue normally.
Although, hypothyroidism is usually a life-long disorder that cannot be reversed the use of medications restores everything back to normal. Often, individuals with hypothyroidism make excuses saying that this condition is making them lethargic and hindering efforts for weight loss. We believe that once correct diagnosis and treatment is initiated , then these patients can achieve the same goals as normal healthy individuals.
The only obstacle in the path of good health is an unprepared mind!
Dr Pooja Chhawcharia is the Senior Nutritionist at eKincare with over 7 years of experience in Nutrition education, diet counseling and research. She is a Registered Dietician with the Indian Dietetic Association and Certified Diabetes Educator recognized by the International Diabetes federation . She is also interested in ancillary sciences such as Yoga and Naturopathy.