Dr. M.J. Bazos,
Hypothyroidism is the lack of
normal thyroid hormone production. It may occur at any age and is screened for
in all newborns. Hypothyroidism may be caused by birth defects, viruses, or
autoimmune diseases. Often hypothyroidism results from the treatment of
hyperthyroidism after the abnormal thyroid gland is removed by surgery, or after
it is treated with radioactive iodine (especially for Graves’ disease). It
is not contagious but may affect an unborn child if the pregnant mother does not
produce adequate thyroid hormone. It is very easily treated by the use of
synthetic thyroid tablets, and the effectiveness of these tablets can be easily
checked by blood tests.
Because thyroid hormone
controls the energy use and general activity of all the body’s organs, low
thyroid has many signs and symptoms. Patients may feel tired, sluggish,
depressed, weak, and gain weight. They may retain fluid, have slowed heartbeats,
and even slowing of the bowel movements. Skin and hair may be coarse. In infancy
and childhood, slow growth and poor mental development occur. Prolonged
hypothyroidism can result in heart failure, poor growth, mental retardation (in
infants), and severe swelling of the hands and feet. All of these symptoms can
be prevented and treated if proper thyroid replacement therapy is
best, and only, treatment for hypothyroidism is replacement of thyroid hormone.
Many years ago, animal thyroid was used for this purpose; however, synthetic
thyroid hormone is now available. It is inexpensive, very effective, and
available in a wide range of doses to allow accurate dosing for each patient.
The dose should be taken daily because the body needs a new supply each day.
Your doctor can test your blood to determine the right dose for you. With the
proper dosage, there are no side effects from synthetic thyroid hormone. At
doses that are too high, you may have palpitations, nervousness, shakiness, bone
loss, and increased bowel movements. These symptoms should prompt blood tests to
check the need for a change in dose.
• Take your medication daily
because it is used and removed from the bloodstream
• Follow a low-fat,
low-cholesterol diet with close attention to maintaining a reasonable weight.
One complication of hypothyroidism is increased cholesterol in the blood. In
some cases, this may be completely corrected with the proper diet and an
adequate thyroid replacement dose. Your doctor will check a fasting cholesterol
level periodically to monitor your need for other cholesterol
• See your doctor as
recommended. Remember, if you have Graves’ disease, you will still need to
see your ophthalmologist (eye doctor) on a regular basis, even though your
thyroid has been controlled.
Exercise daily; 20–30 minutes per day of moderate exercise, if approved by
your doctor, will help to control your weight and your cholesterol levels. If
you have not previously exercised, your doctor may have you undergo a stress
treadmill test first, to see how much exercise you can safely
• Don’t skip
your thyroid medicine because you feel well. Serious, life-threatening
complications such as heart failure may begin slowly and without
• Don’t increase your
dose unless told to by your doctor, because you may cause bone loss, heart
rhythm disturbances, or other side
• Don’t forget to have
your thyroid hormone levels checked periodically, even if you are feeling fine.
Your needs may change over time with changes in weight and age, and your doctor
will change your thyroid dose
When to Call Your
• You gain weight, retain
fluid, or feel depressed.
• You have
palpitations, tremor, or
• Your vision is blurred
or you have eye pain.
• You are short