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Top Facts about Hypothyroidism

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Hypothyroidism related image Photo: Getty Images

1) Hypothyroidism is a treatable condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the hormones called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Though people of any age can get this condition, adults over the age of 50, particularly women, have the highest risk.

2) The thyroid gland is a small, two-lobed gland located in the front of the neck, below the larynx. One lobe is located on each side of the trachea and is connected by tissue called the isthmus. The thyroid gland produces hormones which are involved in regulating metabolism and calcium balance.

3) The most common cause of an underactive thyroid gland is an autoimmune response. The body produces antibodies against the thyroid gland, as if it were a foreign or threatening organism. Hashimoto’s syndrome, also called chronic thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disorder in which inflammation causes reduced thyroid function.

4) Some women develop postpartum thyroiditis within the first year following delivery. The painless inflammation of the thyroid gland can last from several weeks to several months. In some cases, this condition leads to long-term hypothyroidism.

5) Radiation therapy used to treat head and neck cancers, radioactive iodine used to treat an overactive thyroid gland, partial or complete surgical removal of the thyroid gland and certain medications, such as lithium, contribute to hypothyroidism. In rare cases, congenital hypothyroidism, which is the absence of a thyroid gland or presence of a defective thyroid gland at birth, a pituitary gland disorder, and an iodine deficiency lead to hypothyroidism.

6) Generally, the symptoms develop slowly. Early signs include fatigue, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, unintentional weight gain, pale, dry skin, thin, brittle hair and fingernails, heavier menstrual periods, joint and muscle pain and depression. Left untreated, thinning of the eyebrows and skin develops, the senses of taste and smell decrease, the voice becomes hoarse, speech slows and the face, hands and feet become puffy.

7) A highly sensitive blood test to measure TSH , which is thyroid stimulating hormone produced by the pituitary gland, is used by physicians to detect thyroid disorders, often before symptoms present. A laboratory test to measure T4, which is the hormone thyroxine produced by the thyroid gland, is done to confirm the diagnosis.

8) Daily use of levothyroxine, which is a synthetic thyroid hormone, is the standard treatment. It restores adequate thyroid hormone levels. Treatment is usually lifelong, though dosage may be modified depending upon TSH levels. TSH levels are often checked two to three months after starting treatment followed by annual monitoring.


PubMed Health: Hypothyroidism

University of Maryland Medical Center: Endocrinology Health Guide/ The Thyroid Gland

University of Maryland Medical Center: Endocrinology Health Guide/ Hypothyroidism

PubMed Health: Chronic Thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s Disease)

Mayo Clinic: How Long Does Postpartum Thyroiditis Usually Last?

Mayo Clinic: Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid) Causes

MedlinePlus: TSH Test

Mayo Clinic: Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid) Treatment and Drugs

Reviewed August 15, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment6 Comments


It is time to find another doctor. I have only been diagnosed with hypothyroidism for a little over a year. My condition is the result of radiation therapy to the face and neck. But, I do have my thyroid levels checked periodically to insure that I am on the correct dose of Synthroid.

Take it from me, please, if you are not satisfied with the care you are currently receiving, look for a new doctor. If I had not found the right doctors, I would not be communicating with your right now.


October 31, 2011 - 9:19am

Hi KrisP612,

As both a registered nurse and someone with hypothyroidism, do not take any synthetic forms of T3 without first consulting your physician.

While most actions of thyroid hormone are most likely due to T3, most T3 in the body comes from the conversion of T4. The conversion of T4 to T3 is normal in hypothyroid patients. T3 has a very short life span in the bodywhile the life span of T4 is much longer, ensuring a steady supply of T3.

A preparation of synthetic T3 (Cytomel) is available. After taking a tabletof Cytomel there are very high levels of T3 for a short time, and then the levels fall off very rapidly. This means that T3 has to be taken several times each day, and even doing this does not smooth out the T3 levels properly.

In addition, it is impossible to avoid having too much thyroid hormone in the system soon after each dose of T3 is taken. High T3 levels can lead to unpleasant symptoms such as rapid heart beat, insomnia and anxiety. HighT3 levels also can harm the heart and the bones.

Another concern with using T3 treatment is that the body is deprived of the ability to adjust theconversion of T4 to T3 to regulate the supply of T3 according to the body’s own needs.

October 31, 2011 - 6:14am
(reply to Maryann Gromisch RN)

Maryann, thanks for answering my question. I've been diagnosed for about 14 years with hypothyroidism and I'm taking medication but just can't lose the 30 pounds I've gained plus my hair hasn't filled back in. To make things worse I'm perimenopausal. I went to my doctor and asked him to test my hormones, he said I didn't need to have that done and put me on birth control. I had my hormones tested at a pharmacy and I'm estrogen dominant. The pharmacist also said I have adrenal fatigue. So I quit taking the birth control, started using a progesterone cream and taking an OTC adrenal support but I can't lose weight and don't really trust my doctor!

October 31, 2011 - 7:25am
(reply to KrisP612)

Sorry for the delay KrisP612, I wasn't receiving my emails and thought there was nothing going on here on EmpoweHer! Boy was I an idiot, I have missed so much in the last month alone!

Anyway, Cytomel is the synthetic T3, but of course before discussing this type of medication with your doctor he needs to check what your Free T3 and Free T4 levels are. Many people with hypothyroidism do convert the T4 just fine, but there are many other tests available other than the TSH to inform you and your doctor of just what your body is doing.

The most important thing is finding a doctor you not only trust, but one that will work with you to find the right dosages of the right medications to get you feeling well again. Very frustrating, but well worth it. I know the first time my primary told me I didn't need to have my hormones tested because I didn't even know which ones (his words, and not in a nice manner) I ended my relationship with him.

There is so much information now a days for those of us who are hypothyroid, it is hard to know which to follow. The best thing to do is realize that this can and most likely will be an adjustment to your lifestyle (diet and such), and we must treat the disease as such.

I wish you the best of luck, and please feel free to join us over at the online support group! (Of course now that I am again aware there is alot of activity going on over there!) :)

Best Regards,


November 29, 2011 - 7:35pm

Please keep in mind that the "standard" testing and "standard" treatment by synthetic T4 only may not work for all people. If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, and are still not feeling well after adjusting to your medication, you may want to consider other options available for treatment of hypothyroidism. Those include synthetic T3, as well as natural desiccated thyroid medications. Each person will respond differently to differently medications, and finding the one that works for you is the best medication.

Also, if your hypothyroidism is indeed due to an autoimmune response, start researching ways you may reduce the autoimmune attack via lifestyle changes, diet and supplementation. Treat this disease as a whole, not just the symptoms. You may be like me and have a family history of autoimmune thyroid disease, but there are ways to minimize the attacks and continue to keep your energy and health up. It may not always be easy, especially since you may be feeling worn out, sick and tired all the time, but if you can push through that and start to treat your body as a whole, you can feel good again!

August 25, 2011 - 11:13am
(reply to Auntlello1)

Auntlello1 are you suggesting taking a synthetic T3 with my prescription thyroid medication? If so, can you give me the names of some? I'm thinking about asking my doctor to put me on Citomel, have you heard of this?

October 27, 2011 - 2:49pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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