Hypothyroidism: Weight gain, mood swings among symptoms
When your thyroid stops producing enough hormones to regulate many crucial functions in your body, causing them to slow down, you may be diagnosed with hypothyroidism.
If someone has hypothyroidism, he/she may feel less energetic and experience mood swings, among other symptoms. The opposite occurs with hyperthyroidism - too many hormones enter your bloodstream. As a result of hyperthyroidism, your heart rate speeds up, and you can feel anxious and experience unintentional weight loss.
"When your thyroid gland doesn't work properly, it can affect multiple organ systems in your body," explains Kara Hawkins, MD, a Sentara Healthcare endocrinologist. "Hypothyroidism slows your metabolism. It can also affect your mood, making you feel depressed, and can even make you feel cold.”
What is the thyroid?
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of your neck, under your voice box. The two sides lie around your windpipe.
The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate how your body uses energy, which is why it affects so many systems within your body. The pituitary gland and hypothalamus in your brain tell the thyroid gland whether to release hormones into the bloodstream.
Another important piece to thyroid function is iodine. Iodine is necessary for proper thyroid function, and iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism. Since the body doesn't make iodine, you must get it from your diet. On the other hand, too much iodine in a susceptible person can also cause thyroid dysfunction.
How do I know if I have hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is more likely to affect women over 50. People with autoimmune disorders, like type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis are also at a higher risk for hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include:
- Abnormal menstrual cycles and fertility problems
- Decreased libido
- Depression and irritability
- Dry hair and skin
- High cholesterol
- Hoarse voice
- Joint pain, stiffness and swelling
- Memory loss
- Muscle aches, stiffness and weakness
- Puffy face
- Slow heart rate
- Unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight
"Hypothyroidism can develop slowly over months and years, so you may not notice it right away,” Dr. Hawkins says. "If you experience a combination of these symptoms, it would be a good idea to see your doctor. It is important to note, though, that thyroid dysfunction is not the only cause of symptoms such as these.”
In addition to reviewing your symptoms, a primary care provider or endocrinologist can order tests that check thyroid hormone levels diagnose hypothyroidism.
What causes hypothyroidism?
Many conditions can cause hypothyroidism.
Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disorder, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. In Hashimoto's, the body's immune system inappropriately mounts an attack on the thyroid gland. Thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid gland, may also follow a viral infection.
If part of the thyroid has been surgically removed or damaged by radiation therapy during head and neck cancer treatment, you can develop hypothyroidism. Certain medications and damage to the pituitary gland, which instructs the thyroid to produce hormones, can also cause hypothyroidism.
How do doctors treat hypothyroidism?
"The good news about treating hypothyroidism is that we have effective medications," Dr. Hawkins says.
Your doctor will order blood tests six to eight weeks after starting medication to check if it is working effectively. “You may notice a slight improvement in symptoms within a couple of weeks, but the full response to thyroid hormone therapy often takes a month or two, and medication dose adjustments may be needed,” Dr. Hawkins notes.
By: Lisa Smith