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Frequently Asked Questions

What is hypothyroidism?

Short Answer

Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormones.

Long Answer

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that wraps around your windpipe just below the larynx (voice box). It releases essential hormones into your bloodstream that control your body's metabolism. The two most important hormones are called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).

Joints potentially affected by rheumatoid arthritis

Hormone production of the thyroid is regulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain. When low levels of thyroid hormones T3 and T4 in the blood are detected, the hypothalamus releases thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) which signals the pituitary to release thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH signals the thyroid to produce more hormones. If anything disrupts the signals between these three glands, it can result in the thyroid producing insufficient amounts of T3 and T4 hormones, known as hypothyroidism.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • fatigue
  • depression
  • weight gain
  • constipation
  • dry skin and hair
  • increased sensitivity to cold
  • muscle or joint pain or stiffness
  • impaired memory

A blood test is used to diagnose hypothyroidism. Normally it involves measuring the amount of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood which will be high when the thyroid is producing insufficient hormones. Sometimes the levels of T3 or T4 are also tested but the primary indicator is the TSH level which can be elevated long before T3 and T4 hormone reduction is detected.

The preferred treatment is a daily oral dose of synthetic thyroxine (T4) in medications with the active ingredient Thyroxin (Eltraxin, Synthroid) or Levothyroxine (Thyrox, Levoxyl, L-thyroxine, Eltroxin, Synthroid). This is usually a life-long therapy to manage thyroid hormone production. Fortunately, the drug is fairly inexpensive.

Doctors recommend taking this medication with water on an empty stomach at least a half hour before breakfast. Iron supplements, calcium supplements and antacids may interfere with the absorption of the medication. Side effects are rare.

You can expect to see improvement in your fatigue and other symptoms in as little as two weeks. Initially, your doctor will retest your blood at intervals to ensure the prescribed dosage is adequate. Once your thyroid is regulated, yearly tests are recommended.

Additional Information

Hypothyroidism (Medicinet.com)

Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) (MayoClinic.com)

Hypothyroidism (nlm.nih.gov)

Hypothyroidism (Thyroid.ca)

Levothyroxine (nlm.nih.gov)

Levothyroxine (Oral Route) (MayoClinic.com)