I have a hectic schedule.
I don’t get time to sleep for 6-8 hours every night.
This hot weather leaves me exhausted.
My stress levels cause fatigue.
While all of the above reasons for exhaustion and weakness may be valid at some point, they cannot be deemed acceptable if low energy levels are a daily concern for you. According to medical experts, a condition known as hypothyroidism may very well be the reason for your persistent weariness and fatigue. How can you differentiate between fatigue that stems from a chaotic lifestyle, and exhaustion that has its roots in hypothyroidism? This article will give you a concise yet inclusive answer to this question, allowing you to determine whether hypothyroidism could be the reason behind your health troubles.
What Is Hypothyroidism?
To gain a deeper understanding about this condition it is important to take a step back and talk about some relevant bodily processes and functions. So, let’s get started.
If you break the word ‘hypothyroidism’ into smaller constituents, you will notice the use of the word ‘thyroid’. This is a literal indicator of the part of the body affected by hypothyroidism. That’s right, the thyroid gland. This gland is one of the largest endocrine glands in the body i.e. its main function is to secrete essential hormones directly into your bloodstream. It is located in close proximity to what we commonly refer to as the ‘Adam’s Apple’.
Let’s take a quick look at the biological and chemical process that occurs in the body in relation to the thyroid gland. The brain is responsible for the functioning of the gland, and as per the need of the body it sends a trigger to the gland, causing it to release vital hormones that have a direct impact on your metabolism. TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone) is responsible for the production and release of T3 and T4 hormones which influence your metabolism. Your metabolism is responsible for the utilization of the food that you eat to generate energy. With this energy your body is able to carry out its basic functions while you get the chance to participate in activities of your choice.
This is how the thyroid gland is supposed to function in its normal capacity. The development of hypothyroidism takes place when the gland is unable to produce these fundamental hormones, or cannot produce them in the required quantities. Keep in mind that without TSH, the subsequent production of T3 and T4 cannot take place.
What Are The Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?
Depending upon the severity of the condition, the symptoms may be negligible, mild, grave, and in a few rare cases, life-threatening. They most commonly reported symptoms include the following:
- Persistent fatigue that doesn’t seem to fade away.
- Consistently low energy levels
- Sudden drop in body temperature (patient feels cold)
- Hair becomes coarse or thin
- Patient feels out of breath very quickly during physical activities.
- Swelling of the ankles
- Difficulty in regulating blood pressure levels
- Difficulty in regulating cholesterol levels
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Can make it difficult for women to get pregnant
- For pregnant women, hypothyroidism can increase the risks of miscarriage.
How Can Hypothyroidism Be Diagnosed?
According to medical experts, a simple blood test can detect the presence of hypothyroidism. The test for hypothyroidism is called a TSH test. If this test indicates that the medical condition may be present, additional T3/T4 tests are usually carried out to confirm the diagnosis.
Hypothyroidism may also be detected in regular blood tests in what is known as sub-clinical hypothyroidism. Often the patient has extremely mild symptoms or possibly no symptoms at all. If sub-clinical hypothyroidism is detected in your regular blood tests, get an expert opinion on how you should proceed treatment-wise. The final decision i.e. treatment or no treatment, rests entirely with you. Your doctor will be able to guide you further given his/her knowledge of your particular symptoms and health in general.
Can Hypothyroidism Be Treated?
Yes, the good news is that hypothyroidism can be regulated and treated. The treatment is a lifelong commitment, but the frequency and medication dosages will vary overtime as the patient gets better.
Known as Thyroid Replacement Therapy, the treatment has two key aims:
- To maintain normal levels of TSH and T4 (hormones) in the bloodstream so that the body can use these hormones to kick-start the metabolic process and generate energy.
- To alleviate the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Some patients may notice improvements within the first 2 weeks of starting the treatment, while others may have to wait for weeks and months before any improvement is detected. The severity of your condition will determine how long it takes for the therapy to start delivering appreciable results. Don’t allow your spirits to sag at the thought of a lifelong treatment. According to medical experts, once the treatment starts to have its positive effects on your body there is no reason why you won’t be able to live an active and healthy life.
Patients are prescribed thyroid hormone pills (Generic name: Levothyroxine) which are to be taken daily (1 pill per day). The pill must be taken on an empty stomach. The general rule is that it should be taken either one hour before eating or two hours after eating. You will find several different brands of thyroid hormone pills, but stick to the brand prescribed by your doctor so that your body is consistently exposed to only one type of medication. However, if you feel that a particular brand does not suit you or is leading to uncomfortable side-effects, consult your doctor immediately and ask him/her to recommend another brand.
Once the treatment starts, your doctor will follow the procedure listed below to ensure that everything is on track and your recovery is on its way:
- He/she will check your TSH Hormone levels every 4-8 weeks.
- Depending upon the progress of the treatment your medication dosage will be adjusted and readjusted several times until stability in hormonal levels is achieved. This process may take months.
- Once stability is achieved and the optimal dose of medication is determined, your doctor will (usually) only check your TSH levels every 3 months-1 year. There are cases however which require closer monitoring based on the severity of the condition.
- Overtime, the dosage will be adjusted further based on factors such as age, health, surgical concerns (if the patient undergoes surgery), and pregnancy.
Thyroid Replacement Therapy and Pregnancy
Is it possible for hypothyroidism patients to get pregnant once optimal hormonal levels are achieved during treatment? According to medical experts, the answer to that question is yes. Once the levels of TSH, T3 and T4 fall within the normal range, women can have healthy pregnancies. To ensure that there are no complications, your doctor will check your hormone levels every 4 weeks and make adjustments to your dosage accordingly.
Is Your Health Your Topmost Priority?
Being aware of your health is not an act of selfishness; it is a necessity, a duty, and essential for a happy and fulfilling life. You are now a well-informed individual who has gained a fair bit of knowledge about hypothyroidism. If you feel that you might be suffering from this condition, do not hesitate to request for a TSH blood test. Even if the test results show that you do not have hypothyroidism, you will at least know that your exhaustion is not due to a medical condition. You can make proceed to make suitable modifications to your lifestyle to make it healthier, happier and less stressful.