Hypothyroidism FAQ This page and its contents are Copyright 2005the American Thyroid Association 1 SYMPTOMS
What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism refers to any condition in which the thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone. Symptoms may includefeeling run down, slow, depressed, sluggish, cold, or tired and having dry skin and hair, constipation, muscle cramps, or weightgain. Women may have an increased menstrual flow. Some patients have a swelling in the front of the neck due to thyroidenlargement (a goiter).
What causes hypothyroidism?
In most cases, hypothyroidism is caused by a condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in which a patient’s immune systemattacks and destroys the thyroid. Hypothyroidism can also be caused by treatment of hyperthyroidism or by certainmedications, and it may be present from birth. The thyroid may temporarily become underactive after pregnancy or if it isinflamed due to a viral infection. Finally, a problem with the pituitary gland can cause hypothyroidism.
How is the diagnosis made?
A physical examination and laboratory tests that measure the amount of thyroid hormone (thyroxine, or T4) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in your blood are necessary. Measurement of antibodies in the blood that attack the thyroid(antithyroid antibodies) may help in diagnosing the cause of hypothyroidism. There is absolutely no evidence thathypothyroidism can be detected solely by taking your temperature.
How is hypothyroidism treated?
• Synthetic thyroxine. Pure synthetic thyroxine (T4), taken once daily by mouth, fully replaces the thyroid gland and successfully treats the symptoms of hypothyroidism in most patients. Because the potency of generic thyroxine has variedconsiderably in the past, your physician may specify a brand name to treat your thyroid problem. The current brandedforms of synthetic T4 are Synthroid®, Levoxyl®, Levothyroid®, and Unithroid® For the few patients who do not feel completelynormal taking T4 alone, the combination of synthetic T4 and T3 (Cytomel®) may be of benefit.
• Desiccated animal thyroid. Desiccated (dried and powdered) animal thyroid, now mainly obtained from pigs, was the most common form of thyroid therapy before the individual active thyroid hormones were discovered. Desiccated animalthyroid is rarely prescribed today, and there is no evidence that desiccated thyroid has any advantage over synthetic T4.
• Problems with too much or too little hormone. If you are not taking enough thyroid hormone, some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism may continue. If you take too much thyroid hormone, you may have symptoms mimicking an overactivethyroid, including nervousness, a racing heart, trouble sleeping, and shaking.
• Long-term follow-up and family members at risk. If you have hypothyroidism, you need to continue to see your doctor for follow-up at least once a year so that your thyroid hormone and TSH levels can be checked and your dose adjusted.
Because hypothyroidism often runs in families, examinations of your family members may reveal other individuals withthyroid problems.
For further details on this and other thyroid-related topics,
please visit the patient resources section on the American
Thyroid Association website at


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