Medical Column: Hypothyroidism -The Underactive Thyroid Gland

By: Dr. Monica Drummond
Family Medicine Resident
Colquitt Regional Medical Center

Our bodies are made up of various glands that play important roles in maintaining our overall health. One such gland is the thyroid gland which is located in the front of the neck, and which helps regulate metabolism. Hypothyroidism is a relatively common condition, affecting approximately 5% of the population. It can occur at any age, but it is more prevalent in women and older individuals. Certain factors may increase the risk of developing hypothyroidism, such as a family history of thyroid disorders, autoimmune diseases, radiation therapy to the neck or head, and certain medications.

When this gland becomes underactive, a condition known as hypothyroidism occurs and can have a significant impact on various aspects of daily life. Individuals with hypothyroidism may experience unexplained weight gain or find it challenging to lose weight, despite efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle. They may also feel tired, sluggish, and have low energy levels. Sleep disturbances, including excessive sleepiness or insomnia, can occur. Additionally, hypothyroidism can affect menstrual cycles, leading to irregular or heavy periods. Some individuals may also experience difficulties with concentration, memory, and mental alertness. Somepatients also experience hair loss and dry skin.

If someone suspects they may have hypothyroidism, they should consult their family physician. Diagnosis usually involves a blood test to measure thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. Elevated TSH levels indicate an underactive thyroid gland.

Treatment for hypothyroidism is usually simple and involves taking a prescription thyroid hormone replacement medication, such as levothyroxine. This medication helps restore the hormone levels in the body and alleviates the symptoms of hypothyroidism. It is important to follow the prescribed dosage and take the medication regularly, preferably on an empty stomach and wait 30 minutes before eating. Regular follow-up appointments with the family physician are crucial to monitor thyroid hormone levels and adjust the medication dosage if necessary. By working closely with their family physician and taking medication as prescribed, individuals with hypothyroidism can regain control over their metabolism and overall well­ being.