An underactive thyroid gland, by definition, is one which does not produce enough of the thyroid hormones. This has immediate consequences for the body because the thyroid hormone is tasked with maintaining the body’s metabolic processes. It explains why people with an underactive thyroid will experience an array of symptoms linked to slowed metabolism.
There are two common causes of an underactive thyroid, a condition also referred to as hypothyroidism. The first occurs following the inflammation of the thyroid gland which affects the functioning of the thyroid cells. This happens because the inflamed cells are either damaged or completely destroyed, rendering the gland incapable of producing enough of the hormone.
The second condition that leads to an underactive thyroid under this category is known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This condition is also known as autoimmune thyroiditis which, just as the name suggests, occurs when an individual’s own immune system attacks the cells of the thyroid gland. This inflammation damages the cells that produce the thyroid hormone, leading to a low concentration in the body.
In addition to the inflammation of the thyroid gland, the other leading cause of hypothyroidism is a wide array of medical treatments that touch on the thyroid gland. Sometimes, the treatment of thyroid conditions requires surgical intervention which leads to the partial or total removal of the gland. When this happens and the remaining cells are incapable of producing enough of the hormone, the affected individual suffers hypothyroidism. This is important because the surgical removal of the thyroid gland is one of the measures taken to manage thyroid cancer.
Note too, that in some cases, only a portion of the thyroid gland is removed so that the remaining part has cells that produce enough of the hormone. Alongside this condition, there are rare cases where the thyroid gland is perfectly okay, but is unable to produce enough thyroid hormone because of a malfunction of the pituitary gland.
This happens because the pituitary gland produces the ‘signal’ for the thyroid gland to make the hormone – that is it produces the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). In absence of the TSH, the gland cannot produce the thyroid hormone. Since this condition affects millions of people globally, it is important to look out for the signs that indicate hypothyroidism. Below are compelling signs that you may have an underactive thyroid and what you can do about it.
Signs of an Underactive Thyroid Gland:
1. Extreme Fatigue is Among the Most Common Signs of an Underactive Thyroid:
Feeling extremely fatigued may seem like a ubiquitous symptom for an array of conditions, but it is not. In patients who suffer hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue is a common symptom. This manifests as extreme fatigue and body weakness that affects one’s ability to carry out daily tasks. If you notice that you are too lethargic to do anything, this could be a warning sign of an underactive thyroid.
2. Increased Weight:
The main purpose of the thyroid hormone is metabolic regulation. Consequently, an underactive thyroid leads to poor metabolism, and this makes affected people predisposed to increased body weight.
In the same breath, such people will also find it pretty hard to lose weight. Additionally, part of the increase in weight has got something to do with water retention by the body’s cells.
Some people will experience puffiness as a result. This happens when there is little or no thyroid hormone in circulation. If you notice weight gain even with measures to keep fit, your body could be letting you know that you have an underactive thyroid.
3. Brain Fog is also a Sign of an Underactive Thyroid:
The thyroid hormones not only affect the body’s metabolic processes, it also has an impact on the functioning of the brain. This is precisely why hypothyroidism marks the onset of memory loss, or what is normally referred to as ‘brain fog’. If you start experiencing memory lapses that interrupt how you function, it could be an indication of an underactive thyroid. This is sometimes difficult to pin down, but it often happens in combination with other symptoms of hypothyroidism.
4. Dry Scaly Skin is also a Common Sign of an Underactive Thyroid:
Does your skin feel dry scaly and even itchy? Not the subtle kind of symptoms, but over-the-top-visible dryness and itchiness? Perhaps it is time to consider that your thyroid gland is not producing as much thyroid hormone as it should be. One of the first places where you will notice these changes is the face. Facial skin tends to look thinner and dryer compared to other parts of the body. This happens despite efforts to moisturize properly, and should not be dismissed casually.
5. Persistent Muscle Aches and Weaknesses:
One of the most common complaints by people with an undiagnosed underactive thyroid gland is persistent pains in the muscles. This is often accompanied by muscle weakness.
Unlike other conditions that affect the body, such muscular pain is not localized and pretty much feels like it affects the whole body. The pain and weakness is long-term, and often contributes to the fatigue experienced.
6. Increased Sensitivity to Low Temperatures:
When the thyroid gland is unable to produce enough thyroid hormone, one of the compelling signs that develop is the increased sensitivity to low temperatures.
If you find yourself suddenly feeling colder than usual, especially when other people around you do not feel the same way, it becomes important to consider the possibility of hypothyroidism. This happens because the disruption of metabolic processes impacts the body’s ability to maintain the body’s temperature.
7. Discomfort in the Neck:
For many patients, the onset of hypothyroidism triggers discomfort in the neck region. It is thought that this discomfort is as a result of the cellular inflammation within the gland. Patients have often described the discomfort as ‘feeling like there is something in the throat’.
Such discomfort needs medical attention for proper diagnosis as it could be an indication of an underactive thyroid following inflammation and destruction of the thyroid gland cells.
Other signs that point to an underactive thyroid include chronic stress, depression, constipation, hair loss as well as irregular menstrual flow in women. With this in mind, what re some of the things you can do to support a healthy thyroid gland?
Simple Tips to use to Aid in the Management of an Underactive Thyroid:
NOTE: These tips are not a substitute for medical treatment, and are only recommended to help one cope with their condition. Always consult a professional medical doctor before using any of the tips or supplements recommended below.
1. Cut Out on Processed Foods.
This is a simple but effective tip because it helps keep the additional weight off. Remember that pone of the signs of an underactive thyroid is rapid weight gain. By reducing the intake of processed foods, you will be a step ahead in helping manage the symptoms of the condition. It also helps to cut out gluten from the diet. This has been shown to increase gluten sensitivity and compound constipation owing to the slow metabolic rate in the body. On the flip side, increase your intake of fiber-rich foods to curb the constipation and reduce the rate of weight gain.
2. Make Sure you get Plenty of Sun.
This is important because Vitamin D plays an integral role in the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Alternatively, consult your medical provider on the way forward with the use of Vitamin D supplements.
3. Reduce your Exposure to Environmental Pollutants that Suppress Thyroid Hormone Production.
One of the ways to do this is to filter your drinking water to ensure that it remains chlorine-free. The presence of chlorine and other potent chemicals has the capacity to block iodine which is required for optimal thyroid gland function. The methods of water filtration may vary, but the end goal ought to be chemical elimination.
4. Reduce the Amount of Phytoestrogen-Rich Foods in your Diet.
Research shows that phytoestrogens commonly found in soy proteins, inhibit the action of thyroid peroxidase. Thyroid peroxidase is one of the hormones required for production of the thyroid hormones. In high concentrations, phytoestrogens may accelerate the advancement of an underactive thyroid.
5. Increase your Intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
Excellent sources of these acids include salmon and mackerel. Omega-3 fatty acids are required for the optimized function of the thyroid gland. In the absence of these fish sources, omega-3 supplements go a long way in helping manage an underactive thyroid gland.
6. Find ways of Incorporating Exercise in your Daily Activities.
This is because one of the signs of an underactive thyroid is rapid weight gain. Staying active may be helpful with losing the gained weight. It also helps boost energy levels once the condition is revolved. As a general guide, it helps to take up simple routines and build up from that point as you take note of how the body responds.
7. Keep off the Alcohol as it Easily Disrupts the Levels of Thyroid Hormone in the Body.
Research indicates that alcohol not only adds toxins to the thyroid gland, it also inhibits the body’s ability to reduce the little thyroid hormone produced.
Leading an overall healthy lifestyle is helpful for the management of hypothyroidism. Remember to seek medical attention and to use this tips as an adjunct form of therapy.