Endocrine Diseases
Underactive Thyroid Gland

​Overview:

  • An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) is a condition where your thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones. 
  • Anyone can have it; but there are factors that increase its chance. 
  • You should see your doctor if you feel symptoms of hypothyroidism.
  • Hypothyroidism can often be successfully treated by taking hormone tablets to replace the hormones your thyroid is not making.
  • There is no way to prevent hypothyroidism; but it can be controlled with medication.

Thyroid gland:
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the front part of the neck. It controls blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, weight, and other functions.

Thyroid gland hormones and their functions:
  • Thyroxine: It plays a main role in regulating: Digestion, heart rate, muscle function, and brain development. It also maintains the health of bones.
  • Triiodothyronine: It plays a main role in regulating: Metabolism, digestion, heart rate, muscle control, brain development, and bone health.
  • Calcitonin: It regulates the level of calcium in your body. 

What is an underactive thyroid gland?
An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) is a case where your thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones to meet your body's needs, leading to a slowdown in some body functions. 

Other names: Hypothyroidism, underactive thyroid gland, low thyroid

Causes:
It may happen for many reasons, including:
  • Having an autoimmune disorder in which your body attacks the thyroid gland (e.g. Hashimoto's disease).
  • Previous treatment of the thyroid gland (e.g. radiation therapy, surgery and others).
  • Less common causes include:
  • Lack intake of iodine
  • A birth defect
  • Pituitary gland disorders
  • Some medications

Risk factors:
Anyone can have it, but it is more likely to occur in the following cases:
  • If you are a woman;
  • If you are over the age of 60;
  • If you previously had a thyroid gland disorder;
  • If you have a family history of thyroid disorders;
  • Pregnancy or premature birth (in the last 6 months);
  • Having chronic diseases (e.g. Sjogren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and others).

Symptoms: Symptoms vary from a person to another, and the most common ones include:
  • Feeling cold despite a hot weather
  • Lack of focus
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Swelling of the face
  • Increased sensitivity to cold 
  • Joint and muscle pain 
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Fine brittle hair
  • Heavy menstruation or irregular periods
  • Fertility problems
  • Depression
  • Slow heart rate

When to see a doctor?
When you feel tired for no reason, or notice symptoms of hypothyroidism.

Complications:
Neglecting hypothyroidism treatment may lead to several complications, such as:
  • Enlarged thyroid gland;
  • Heart problems;
  • Myxedema: It is a very rare, and potentially life-threatening, condition that occurs when thyroid hormones are too low.

Complications may happen to pregnant women if they do not adhere to the treatment plan prescribed by the doctor (such as: Preeclampsia, anemia, etc.) and the baby may also be affected.

Diagnosis:
  • Medical history
  • Family history
  • Clinical examination
  • Laboratory tests (blood analysis)
It is recommended to conduct a periodic test if you are predisposed to this disease. This should also be the case for the elderly and pregnant women or those planning to become pregnant.

Treatment:
The treatment involves the daily use of hormone tablets similar to the hormone naturally produced by the thyroid gland. Tests are performed periodically until the dose is adjusted according to the individual needs of each patient to keep hypothyroidism controlled. The patient should not stop his treatment without informing his doctor. Treatment may take up to 6 months.

Prevention:
There is no way to prevent hypothyroidism; however, it can be controlled with medication.

FAQs:
  • Is taking synthetic hormones dangerous in the long term?
    • Taking synthetic hormones is common among young people who lift weights and women. It has been proven that synthetic hormones cause long-term damage and may lead to death as a result of affecting the heart and sexual ability.
  • Is Levothyroxine safe for pregnant women?
    • Yes, it is safe during pregnancy as long as your doctor is updated on your condition. He measures the levels of your pituitary gland hormone and adjusts doses based on the results of the test performed every 3 months.
  • Does hypothyroidism result in high cholesterol levels?
    • High pituitary hormone levels associated with hypothyroidism leads to high levels of cholesterol in the body.
  • Are there specific foods recommended for people with hypothyroidism?
    • People with hypothyroidism are advised to eat seafood rich in iodine and vegetables grown in environments saturated with iodine. They are also advised to eat iodine-rich salt.

Myths & truths:
  • Hypothyroidism does not affect pregnant women.
    • Truth: Hypothyroidism has dangerous effects on pregnant women, as it leads to miscarriages, pregnancy cramps, fetal death, and premature labor. It also has an effect on the mental and physical development of a fetus.

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