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Hypothyroidism is a disorder of the thyroid gland, which is located in the neck surrounding the trachea. The thyroid gland is responsible for releasing a specific hormone, thyroxin, into the body. Without this hormone, the body’s metabolic rate is decreased resulting in a significant weight gain, mental and physical lethargy, skin dryness, constipation, arthritis, intolerance to cold temperatures, and an overall feeling of tiredness.

The disorder of hypothyroidism has various causes. The causes of the disorder can be genetic, biologic or medical. The most common causes of hypothyroidism include: surgical removal of thyroid gland due to tumor, goiter, cysts or airway obstruction; genetic trait to a decreased thyroid function; overdosing of medications which inhibit the function of the thyroid gland; and atrophy – the wasting away or diminished function – of the thyroid gland due to disease or illness.

The first step in determining if a person is suffering from hypothyroidism is the physical exam and history. A nurse or doctor will do an examination, looking for specific signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism. These signs and symptoms include: prolonged and extreme fatigue; cool, dry, and scaly skin; hair loss from the head and/or eyebrows; brittle nails and hair; facial puffiness including swelling around the eyes; intolerance to cold; aching or stiff muscles and joints without indication of physical exertion; constipation; irregular menses; decrease sexual drive; skin discoloration; periods of numbness or tingling of digits or limbs; decreased cardiac output; and unexplained clumsiness or instable movements. Once the examination is complete, the doctor will decide if the presence of hypothyroidism is evident and may order blood testing to confirm.

Diagnosis of hypothyroidism is not complicated. With a blood test, called a thyroid function test, doctors are able to determine at what level a person’s thyroid gland is working. Hypothyroidism is confirmed by finding a low level of thyroid hormone in the blood while also finding a large amount of another hormone, the thyroid-stimulating hormone – also know as TSH. Once these levels are obtained, a diagnosis of hypothyroidism is given and treatment may begin.

Treatment for hypothyroidism includes medication and patient teaching. As a person may experience both physical and mental effects of hypothyroidism, the nurse or doctor will offer information to help reverse some of the effects such as hair loss, itching and drying of skin and hair, weight gain, and tiredness. This information combined with a thyroid hormone replacement medication offers a very effective treatment for hypothyroidism. The doctor will help maintain adequate levels of the thyroid hormone in the blood, which will prevent reoccurrence of signs and symptoms, by ordering follow-up blood testing at either six month or one year intervals. These follow up tests will help the doctor determine if the medication dosage is sufficient or if an adjustment needs to be made.

Living with hypothyroidism does not have to cause pain, anguish or stress. Seeking medical advice and treatment upon an indication of the major signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism offers the option for fast, effective and simple treatment.