Which symptoms indicate an underactive thyroid?
Because the symptoms of an underactive thyroid are so non-specific, the condition is difficult to recognise. “The person is listless, has less energy, can’t concentrate properly,” says Hans Steinert, Managing Director of the Thyroid Centre at Hirslanden Clinic, Zurich.
Lack of energy
Loss of libido
Often feeling cold
Frequent causes of an underactive thyroid
- Inflammation of the thyroid, known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause.
- Medication: when it causes an underactive thyroid as a side effect, or if the wrong dosage is taken. For example, an overactive thyroid can turn into an underactive thyroid if the medication taken to curb the increased production of thyroid hormones is dosed too high.
- Since birth: in rare cases, an underactive thyroid can be congenital.
- After surgical removal (for example, due to an overactive thyroid).
- After radiotherapy due to thyroid cancer.
- Iodine deficiency: because the body needs iodine to produce thyroid hormones, a pronounced iodine deficiency can also lead to an underactive thyroid. This occurred more often in the past when our table salt was not yet enriched with iodine.
What happens with an underactive thyroid?
An underactive thyroid – the medical term is hypothyroidism – means that the production of thyroid hormones is reduced. As a result, the person lacks the hormones required to regulate the body's metabolism and other important functions. The body’s metabolism is then so slow that the patient can experience a wide variety of complaints, such as reduced stamina. In this case, one possible symptom of hypothyroidism is a low pulse. The TSH level signals to the brain how many hormones need to be produced. Hypothyroidism equates to a high TSH level.
Hashimoto's thyroiditis: what is it?
Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a specific form of hypothyroidism that is relatively common in Switzerland. It's an autoimmune disease in which the thyroid gland is chronically inflamed. There are 2 ways in which Hashimoto's disease can progress:
- The thyroid gland becomes enlarged, but functions poorly.
- The thyroid gland diminishes in size. In medical terms, this is the atrophic form.
Hormone replacement therapy
Hashimoto's thyroiditis generally cannot be prevented. The chronic inflammation stops of its own accord. Hormone replacement therapy can be used to compensate for the missing hormones. “Many people take food supplements. However, this has no influence on the formation of thyroid hormones. With the right dosage of replacement thyroid hormones, a high quality of life is guaranteed,” says Hans Steinert. Once the thyroid levels have been rebalanced by the hormone replacement therapy, good nutrition can then enhance a person’s well-being.
Who is affected and associated risk factors
As in all thyroid gland diseases, more women are affected than men. Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a particularly frequent clinical picture among patients with hypothyroidism. Typical risk factors relating to Hashimoto's thyroiditis are smoking and stress. In Switzerland, around 0.5 to 1% of the population has an underactive thyroid.