Hypothyroidism is a condition that is also called underactive thyroid; it occurs when the thyroid gland fails to produce certain vital hormones in large enough amounts. Women over the age of 50 are particularly vulnerable to this condition which throws off the balance of chemical reactions in the body resulting in a variety of symptoms. These symptoms of hypothyroidism rarely manifest themselves in the beginning stages of the disease but can show up later on as the effects of an underactive thyroid being to pile up.
The human thyroid resembles a butterfly in shape and is found at the base of the neck in the front. Its function is to the produce such hormones as thyroxine and triiodothyronine. These substances perform many jobs, such as regulating the rate at which the body uses carbohydrates and fats, controlling the temperature of the body, and policing the heart rate and manufacturing of proteins. These hormones in turn are released into the system by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus. However, when certain circumstances arise the thyroid gland cannot make enough of these hormones. Conditions such as autoimmune diseases, radiation therapies for cancers of the neck and head, thyroid surgeries, and treatments for an overactive thyroid can cause hypothyroidism and its symptoms.
There is a great variation in the symptoms of hypothyroidism from person to person. One thing that most people do have in common that have this problem is that the symptoms are slow to appear, usually taking years before they are noticed. Early on a person with hypothyroidism may feel tired and fatigued, but few individuals will be able to pinpoint an underactive thyroid as the cause. Later on such symptoms as constipation, pale skin, aching muscles and joints, puffiness of the face, a voice that sounds hoarse, and a weight gain that cannot be explained can occur.
There are other signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism. Women especially will complain of being constantly cold, no matter what the temperature actually is around them. This is due to their internal thermostats going haywire due to lack of hormone balancing. This is a classic symptom of hypothyroidism. Other people will tend to lose their hair, develop brittle hair and fingernails, and become easily irritated or depressed. Strange menstrual cycles can happen to some women and men and women alike can lose their sex drive as a symptom. Sometimes even memory loss can be brought about by the condition.
It is possible for a person any age to be able to develop hypothyroidism. Even infants and adolescents can acquire it; babies born with thyroid problems will eventually exhibit symptoms. These include a yellowing of the skin tone known as jaundice, as the necessary hormones that allow the liver to work properly aren't available. Babies with hypothyroidism will be prone to choking quite often have a large tongue and puffy face, and fail to put on weight or grow in a normal manner. They will be sleepy all the time and if the trouble isn't diagnosed and treated mental retardation can occur. Kids and teenagers with hypothyroidism will be stunted in growth, have a delay in their teeth properly developing, and have mental limitations due to the problem.
Gone untreated the symptoms of hypothyroidism can become severe. Sometimes an enlarged thyroid, a condition known as goiter, can develop. Myxedema is a seldom seen advanced form of hypothyroidism that can be fatal in the worst of instances. It comes with difficulty breathing, lowered blood pressure, body temperature below normal and a lack of energy. The patient with this form of hypothyroidism can lapse into a coma and never recover.