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Understanding Hypothyroidism: Symptoms & Causes

Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid gland is a common disorder which fails to produce enough thyroid hormones to meet the body’s needs. This condition affects millions of people worldwide and can significantly impact overall health and well-being. Here’s a comprehensive look at hypothyroidism, including its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Symptoms can vary widely and may develop gradually over time. They often mimic other health conditions, making diagnosis challenging without proper testing. Common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue and Weakness: Feeling tired despite getting enough sleep.
  • Weight Gain: Difficulty losing weight or unexplained weight gain.
  • Cold Intolerance: Feeling excessively cold, even in warm environments.
  • Dry Skin and Hair: Skin may become dry and rough, and hair may become brittle and thin.
  • Constipation: Slower digestive processes leading to constipation.
  • Muscle Weakness: Decreased strength and muscle tone.
  • Joint Pain: Aches and stiffness in joints.
  • Depression: Feeling sad or depressed without an obvious cause.
  • Memory Problems: Difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
  • Menstrual Irregularities: Heavier or irregular menstrual periods in women.

Causes of Hypothyroidism

Several factors can lead to hypothyroidism, including:

  • Autoimmune Disease: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland.
  • Thyroid Surgery: Partial or complete removal of the thyroid gland due to thyroid nodules, cancer, or other thyroid disorders.
  • Radiation Therapy: Treatment for cancers such as Hodgkin’s disease or thyroid cancer can damage thyroid tissue.
  • Iodine Deficiency: Lack of sufficient iodine in the diet, although this is rare in regions with iodized salt.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as lithium (used for bipolar disorder) and amiodarone (used for heart rhythm problems), can affect thyroid function.
  • Pituitary Disorders: Problems with the pituitary gland can affect thyroid hormone production.

With proper treatment and lifestyle adjustments, many people with hypothyroidism can lead healthy, active lives.