Our body works like a machine and every part of this machine has a specific function to perform. When all the parts of the body perform their functions it body machine functions smoothly. However, any malfunctions can cause imbalances in the body which eventually lead to non performance of various bodily functions. These non performances of regular functions result in various symptoms that the body shows up. The thyroid glands are one such part of the body machinery. It produces the thyroid hormones that are essential to break down the food consumed by the body by boosting its metabolism and thereby producing energy.
Understanding the thyroid gland
The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly and is situated at the bottom of the neck. It is about 2 inches in length and is prominent in some people and known as the Adam’s apple. There are two lobes situated on either side of the thyroid gland which are located near the windpipe. The body organs fall under various divided systems of the body and the thyroid gland forms a part of the endocrine system. The thyroid consists of glands that are responsible for producing, storing and releasing hormones into the blood so that they can reach all the cells of the body. The iodine chemical from the foods is used by the thyroid gland to produce hormones: Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). It is critical that the levels of T3 and T4 are balanced in the body to avoid any complications. There are two glands situated in the brain called hypothalamus and the pituitary glands that are responsible for maintaining the T3 and T4 levels in the blood. When the blood has lower levels of T3 and T4, more TSH is released by the pituitary gland as a signal to the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormones. Similarly when the T3 and T4 levels reduce, lesser amount of TSH is released as a signal to reduce the production of these hormones.
The T3 and T4 components are responsible for regulating the heart rate and enhance the capacity of the intestines to process the food consumed. Lower T3 levels can result in lower heart rate as well as constipation and weight gain.
What is hypothyroidism?
This is a medical condition where in the thyroid glands fail to produce sufficient amount of hormones. Hypothyroidism is also referred to as under active thyroid. It is a disease generally affecting women above the age of 60 years. Hypothyroidism tends to create chemical imbalances in the body that can upset the body’s systems and create problems like obesity, infertility and cardiac issues. Although the symptoms of hypothyroidism tend to show up quite late, there are a number of tests that can help in easy diagnosis. The normal course of treatment includes correcting the thyroid balance by giving the patient medicines that can create the thyroid hormones. These medicines are safe in consumption but should be strictly had based on the doctor’s prescription.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
There are a number of symptoms that can indicate a deficiency of the thyroid hormone in the body. However, depending on how severe the deficiency is, the signs can and symptoms can be less or more. The most common signs include unexplained tiredness or fatigue and sudden weight gain. As the condition progresses, more symptoms begin to show up which include fatigue, cold sensitivity, constipation, dryness of the skin, sudden weight gain, swelling in the face, reduced functioning of the heart, depression, loss of memory, muscular aches and stiffness in the body, hair thinning and so on. These signs should not be ignored and need immediate medical attention else as the condition progresses the signs also tend to worsen.
Recognising signs of hypothyroidism in babies
Hypothyroidism is primarily a condition affecting the older individuals, however some babies and young kids are also found suffering from this condition. Some children are born without a thyroid gland or an under functioning thyroid gland and their symptoms include:
- Yellow tinge on the skin and the eyes since due to reduced metabolism the liver is unable to synthesise the foods and produce bilirubin, a substance that is produced in the body as the recycle of old and new blood cells takes place.
- choking frequently on food and milk
- a bloated or puffed up face
These symptoms in children should not be ignored as even the mild cases can turn severe in no time and lead to symptoms like mental retardation and slower physical development.
When should you see your doctor?
Hypothyroidism is not a temporary phenomenon that can get corrected on its own. In fact when neglected can lead to further imbalances to develop in the body. You need to see a specialist of the endocrine system called endocrinologist. You should ring the alarm bell a d see the endocrinologist as soon as:
- Diagnosis: When you feel the symptoms, you may check them with your GP and your GP if suspect’s hypothyroidism may recommend a few tests to confirm the condition. Once diagnosed, you must refer the tests to a specialist to get the necessary medications and start off with the early treatment.
- Symptoms still persist: If you have been taking your medication to balance the thyroid hormone, yet having persistent symptoms you may want to seek further help and advice for a second opinion. Based on your body’s response to the current medication the specialist may want to revise the dosage for your body to respond better.
- If you can notice a lump or growth around your thyroid: The thyroid glands are situated right in the front of the neck below the voice box. If you can feel a growth or a lump around the thyroid glands, you must have the same investigated at the earliest.
- Suspecting Goiter: Goiter is a condition that refers to the enlargement of the thyroid glands. If you can feel your thyroid glands gone up in size, the same must be checked by an endocrinologist to understand the cause and start off on the necessary treatment.
- Expecting or want to have a baby: Pregnancy can often lead to a number of hormonal disturbances. If you are expecting or planning on having a baby, you would need to check your hormonal levels. You may need synthetic thyroid hormones if your body is not producing enough thyroid hormones. When left untreated hypothyroidism could result in a miscarriage or even deformities in the growing baby and hence the thyroid levels should be checked periodically especially in pregnant women.