Risk Factors and Signs of Hypothyroidism

The thyroid is a small gland at the front of your neck that regulates your metabolism. This affects a variety of important functions like energy level, heart rate, body temperature, and muscle control. About 10 million Americans have hypothyroidism, where the thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone. Know the risk factors and signs of this condition so you can receive the treatment you need.

Risk Factors

Hypothyroidism is most common in women over 50. It affects women much more often than men, and the risk of developing it increases with age. Hypothyroidism is rare but possible in children and teens.

Sometimes, hypothyroidism is caused by removal of the thyroid gland or treatments like radiation that damage the thyroid. Other times, it is caused by an autoimmune disorder or other factors. Some medicines and conditions (especially other autoimmune disorders like type 1 diabetes) can increase your likelihood of developing hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism tends to run in families. Pregnancy can make existing hypothyroidism more severe, so it’s especially important to seek treatment if you are pregnant.

Signs

Hypothyroidism often develops gradually over years. Mild symptoms may go unnoticed or be misattributed to depression, dementia, or the normal aging process.

Common symptoms include brittle nails, constipation, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, irritability, slow body movements, cold and dry skin, cold intolerance, hair loss or coarse hair, memory problems, pale or rough skin, heavy or irregular menstrual periods, depression, and decreased libido.

Less common symptoms include enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), muscle aches and cramps, swelling in limbs and face, hoarseness, and slight weight gain.

Signs of severe hypothyroidism include slow heartbeat, slowed speech, increased tongue size, and jaundice.

Over time, untreated hypothyroidism can lead to conditions including higher cholesterol, sleep apnea, and dementia. Low thyroid hormones during pregnancy can cause complications for both mother and fetus.

Treatment

Talk to your doctor if you experience any symptoms of hypothyroidism over a significant period of time. It can often be diagnosed with a simple blood test.

Supplements support thyroid function by replacing hormones the body fails to produce and/or helping the body produce more of its own hormones with substances like iodine. Many of these treatments are made from animal thyroid glands, usually pigs or cattle. People tend to quickly feel more energized after starting thyroid supplements.

Different supplements have different amounts of thyroid hormone. Too much (hyperthyroidism) can be just as harmful as too little. Make sure you talk to your doctor to decide which supplements for thyroid function support is best for you.

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