What is hypothyroidism (low metabolism)?

Hypothyroidism is a disease in which the body's metabolism is reduced because it produces too little metabolic hormone. The metabolic hormones are produced in the thyroid gland which is located in the throat around our trachea. The disease often shows more and more over the years as the symptoms become clearer and worsen if the disease is not treated. Too low excretion of metabolic hormone and too low concentration of the hormones in the blood affect several of the body's organs, and therefore the patient will experience many different symptoms when suffering from hypothyroidism. There is about a 4.1 % risk of developing hypothyroidism for women in their lifetime, and only about 1.3 % risk for men to develop the disease in their lifetime. The incidence is rapidly increasing with age.


What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism affects several organs, which can cause the following symptoms:

  • Dry and cool skin
  • Fragile and thin nails
  • Slow reflexes
  • Low heart rate
  • Depression, due to the influence on the brain
  • Memory loss
  • Dementia
  • Increased need for sleep
  • Muscle pain, joint pain and swollen joints
  • Irregular and severe menstrual bleeding
  • Voice changes or hoarseness
  • Dizziness and ear sores
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Low blood pressure (anemia)
  • Dermatitis
  • Weight gain
  • Hair Loss


What are the causes of hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is characterised by a low concentration of metabolic hormones called thyroxine and triiodothyronine in the blood. These hormones are produced and secreted from the thyroid gland. The excretion of the hormones from the gland is thus reduced. The disease can be divided into primary and secondary hypothyroidism, depending on what the underlying explanation for the development of the disease is.

Primary hypothyroidism is due to thyroid disease, and in 98% of cases, this is the cause of hypothyroidism. Disease in this gland may be due to an immune system disorder, in which inflamed cells have begun to attack the gland by mistake in order to break it down. This disease is called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, and is an autoimmune disease. Disease in this gland may also be due to medical treatment of excessive metabolism with radioactive iodine. In addition, it may be caused by an operation in the gland or be congenital.

In the last 2% of cases, hypothyroid disease is caused by damage to areas of the brain called hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, which helps to form hormones. Additionally, diseases like Down's syndrome, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease are associated with an increased risk of developing hypothyroidism. Some pregnant women will also experience transient hypothyroidism.


What are the treatment options for hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism can be treated with medical preparations that compensate for the lack of release of metabolic hormones. Thyroxin can be taken as pill and the dose will be adjusted according to the degree of symptomatic relief and results from new blood samples. When the body has a normal amount of metabolic hormones again, the metabolism will be normalised, the symptoms will disappear and the complications that comes with the disease will be prevented.

At the beginning of the treatment, you will often have to go to a doctor's check every 2-3 month to measure the thyroxine blood concentration. Once the condition is stabilised, an annual visit to the doctor’s office will be sufficient.

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