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Ask Dr. Leavitt--What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a disorder of the thyroid gland, which is located in your neck. The thyroid produces hormones-- thyroxine or T4 and triiodothyronine or T3, that affect how the body works (for example, controlling metabolism). With hypothyroidism, also commonly known as slow or sluggish thyroid, the gland does not make enough thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism affects both men and women. It can happen at any age but is more common in adult women.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Mild hypothyroidism may not cause symptoms. Most people do not have all the symptoms listed below, but quite often may have several of the following:

  • Poor appetite and difficulty with bowel movements (constipation) can lead to gaining or losing weight
  • Anemia or low red blood cell or iron count
  • Becoming pale
  • Feeling cold quite often
  • Inability to sweat
  • Frequently feeling tired
  • Problems with mental abilities, including poor memory and feeling depressed
  • Trouble sleeping at night
  • Numbness and tingling in hands and feet
  • Hair changes, such as hair becoming thinner, more coarse or growing slowly
  • The voice may get deeper and raspy
  • Shortness of breath and changes in heart rate
  • Fluid retention especially around the eyes
  • Women may have problems with their menstrual cycle
  • Decreased interest in sex
  • With severe hypothyroidism the tongue may become enlarged, called macroglossia, and the skin may look darkened and rough, a condition known as hyper keratosis

Diagnosing Hypothyroidism

Be sure to sit down and talk with your primary care doctor. Your family doctor can do a complete physical examination and measure levels of thyroid hormones in the blood.

Treatment of Hypothyroidism

Medicine can replace hormones that your body does not make. It is inexpensive, very effective, and available in many doses to properly treat each patient's specific needs. The goal is to provide the body with enough hormone so that it works normally.

The medicine, called synthetic thyroid hormone or levothyroxine, should be taken daily because the body needs a new supply each day. Regular blood tests will ensure the right dose. The correct dose of levothyroxine has no side effects. Patients should start feeling better within a few weeks after starting thyroid medicine.

Dr. Paul Leavitt is a Board Certified Family Doctor in Hendersonville, TN. He enjoys taking care of patients of all ages and has special interests in hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and thyroid disorders.

At Leavitt Family Medicine, we are here for you, for all of your health care needs. We welcome your comments and questions. Please let us know how we can help you today!

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