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Hypothyroidism. It’s a term you often hear when people are struggling to shed weight, but what is it, how do you get it and, above all, how is it treated?

What is hypothyroidism?

As this hormone is responsible for keeping the body’s metabolism working properly, if you don’t have the correct amount, you’re not only likely to experience weight gain, but a whole host of other symptoms too. Thyroxine is produced in the thyroid gland, a small butterfly shaped gland that’s situated in the neck just in front of the windpipe. If the thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroxine, your body’s functions begin to slow down.

Who’s likely to suffer from an underactive thyroidgland?

Unfortunately women tend to suffer from hypothyroidism more than men, with 1 in 50 women expected to develop the condition in contrast to 1 in 1000 men. While it usually develops in adulthood, becoming more prevalent with increasing years, it can happen at any age and anyone can be affected, with some children being born with congenital hypothyroidism.

What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?

There are a range of common symptoms that are associated with an overactive thyroid. These include feeling more tired than normal, weight gain, fluid retention, aching muscles, dry skin, lifeless hair and feeling cold, although you won’t necessarily experience all these at the same time. Additionally, there are some less common symptoms, including loss of sex drive, carpal tunnel syndrome and a hoarse voice.

The main cause of hypothyroidism in the US is autoimmune disease, called Autoimmune Thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s disease, where the antibodies created by the immune system attach to the thyroid gland and prevent it from producing the right levels of thyroxine.

An underactive thyroid gland can be diagnosed by means of a simple blood test which measures the levels of thyroid stimulating hormone in the blood. Higher levels than normal indicate that the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroxine. It can also be identified by low levels of thyroxine (T4). While the condition can’t be cured it can be treated with a daily dose of the synthetic thyroid hormone, Levothyroxine, which may reverse symptoms in as little as 7 to 14 days. Once you begin this treatment, you’ll have to take it for the rest of your life and you’ll have to undergo annual checks to make certain that the dose remains suitable for your needs.

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