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Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland is underactive and cannot produce enough thyroid hormones. It is the most common thyroid disorder, affecting approximately 1 in 33 Australians and is more common in women than men in a 10:1 ratio.

The Thyroid Gland

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits low on the front of the neck. It is part of the endocrine system, and its main role is to regulate the body’s metabolism which is your body’s ability to break down food and convert it to energy. Metabolic processes control the body’s heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. It does so by secreting two hormones into the bloodstream: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).

Sore throat, woman with pain in neck, gray background, studio shot

What Causes Hypothyroidism?

In Australia, the most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease. It is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the thyroid gland. Hashimoto’s is also known as thyroiditis because the attack results in swelling and inflammation of the thyroid gland and destruction of thyroid cells.

How Is Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?

Hypothyroidism can be quickly and simply diagnosed by having a blood test to measure the level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland which is a small, bean-shaped gland situated at the base of the brain. TSH is secreted into the bloodstream when the levels of thyroid hormones T3 & T4 drop too low. Therefore, when someone has hypothyroidism, they will have low levels of T3 & T4 hormones, and high levels of TSH.

Common Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty losing weight/unexplained weight gain
  • Brittle nails
  • Dry skin
  • Fragile hair
  • Constipation
  • Puffy face
  • Hoarseness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Elevated blood cholesterol level
  • Muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
  • Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
  • Thinning hair
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Heavier than normal menstrual cycles
  • Depression
  • Impaired memory

Subclinical Hypothyroidism

You may find that you have multiple of the common signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism, however, all your blood tests return as normal. In Australia, the normal level of TSH in a blood test is 0.5 – 4. This normal range is different in many parts of the world. In fact, the World Health Organisation’s definitive range is 0.5 – 3. If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism it is important you follow your doctors’ recommendations and take the medication you have been prescribed. However, if you believe you are in a subclinical level of thyroid function, then it is important to address your stress levels and adrenals. This is because when you experience stress, your adrenals release the hormone cortisol which suppresses the conversion of inactive T4 thyroid hormone into the active T3 thyroid hormone. In addition, you may consider your iodine consumption levels as iodine is one of the essential required nutrients that helps convert hormones into thyroxine. You can boost your iodine levels by taking liquid iodine, iodine supplements, seaweed or kelp tablets.

If you believe you are suffering with subclinical hypothyroidism and would like to discuss this further with Dr Cindy Lam please contact Provolution Health on (02) 6299 2660.

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