It’s estimated that 20 million Americans have some type of thyroid disease, and more than half of them are unaware of it. Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid doesn’t produce enough of its hormones to meet your body’s needs. You may feel tired and unlike yourself.
Internal medicine specialist Samuel I. Fink, MD, in Tarzana, California, diagnoses and treats thyroid disease, including hypothyroidism. A simple blood test can reveal your thyroid levels. If you suspect that you may have hypothyroidism, we can help. Here’s what you should know.
What is hypothyroidism?
Your thyroid is a small gland at the base of your neck. It produces crucial hormones that have a number of functions, including regulating temperature, heart rate, and metabolism.
Hypothyroidism happens when the level of thyroid hormone in your blood is too low. This most often occurs as a result of the immune system attacking the thyroid or its enzymes. The most common thyroid autoantibodies are:
- Thyroperoxidase (TPO): an enzyme produced in the thyroid
- Thyroglobulin: a protein produced in the thyroid gland
- TSH receptor (TSHR): receptor for thyroid stimulating hormone
Damage from thyroid autoantibodies can prevent your thyroid from producing enough hormone. Not everyone with hypothyroidism has thyroid autoimmunity. In some cases, no apparent cause can be found; rarely, thyroid cancer is the cause.
How does hypothyroidism affect me?
Nearly every cell in your body has receptors for thyroid hormones. Because these hormones impact so many organs, hypothyroidism can cause a wide variety of symptoms. However, if you’re unaware that you have hypothyroidism, you may attribute your symptoms to something else, such as stress.
Some of the most common hypothyroidism symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Depression or low mood
- Trouble concentrating
- Fluid retention
- Menstrual irregularities or fertility problems in women
- Cold intolerance
The severity of symptoms varies from person to person. Someone with mild hypothyroidism may have subtle symptoms, while someone with a more severe case may have many noticeable symptoms.
Help for your hypothyroidism
Fortunately, hypothyroidism is a very treatable condition. The path to recovery starts with an accurate diagnosis. Dr. Fink orders a blood test to check your TSH levels and performs a thyroid exam to check how the gland feels — he’s looking for inflammation of the thyroid or nodules, which he can feel when palpating the thyroid.
Once hypothyroidism is confirmed, treatment involves increasing your hormone levels. Replacement hormone is most commonly taken in the form of levothyroxine once daily. Far less commonly, treatment may involve surgery to remove part of all of the thyroid.
Keep in mind that it can take several months before you start feeling better, and hypothyroidism treatment requires long-term management. This means taking thyroid replacement hormone as prescribed and attending regular follow-up appointments to track your progress and ensure your treatment is working properly.
Left untreated, hypothyroidism typically worsens and can cause serious health problems. Our team is here to help you get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment to get you back on track and feeling well. To get started, schedule a visit with Dr. Fink by calling our office or requesting an appointment online today.