What is Hypothyroidism?

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Originally published on 5th March 2016
Last updated on 29th October 2018

Hypothyroidism, also called an underactive thyroid or thyroid disease, is a condition where the thyroid gland does not create enough thyroid hormone/s. The five hormones a healthy thyroid produces are: T1, T2, T3, T4 and Calcitonin. The most important are  T3 and T4, with T3 being the most active.

These hormones are needed for every process, every cell and every function within the body, so when they go wrong i.e. are too low, a lot of other stuff goes wrong too! This can include metabolic function, sensitivity to heat and cold intolerance, muscle aches and pains, fatigue, adrenal problems, vitamin deficiencies.. the list goes on. See a list of symptoms here.

The main purpose of thyroid hormones, produced by the thyroid gland, is to ensure the metabolism is running properly.

The metabolism’s job is to produce heat and fuel. Heat to keep us warm and fuel to give us energy. Now, if we don’t have enough of those thyroid hormones I told you about, our metabolism won’t work properly and so can’t provide us with adequate heat and fuel.

Therefore, people with an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism, often have a slow metabolism, so will have symptoms associated with a slow metabolism, such as cold intolerance (from the lack of heat made) and extreme tiredness and weight gain (from the lack of calories burned to make energy). 

If left untreated for a long time or inadequately treated, other on-going symptoms include those listed here and other health conditions it can cause are here.

Hypothyroidism affects its’ hosts differently, as some people report taking their medication each day and feeling fine, whereas other patients report that their medication does not help them, or that it did at one time, but not anymore.

This can be made worse by doctors not listening to their hypothyroid patients’ worries and suggestions about links to other health conditions. Signs that their medication isn’t working well, so incorrect thyroid levels, can be on-going fatigue, muscle aches, mental health issues such as depression, post-natal depression, bi-polar and anxiety, adrenal problems (high/low cortisol), vitamin deficiencies and diagnosis’s of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, to name just a few things.

Ultimately, once thyroid levels are optimal, which is a TSH below 2, a Free T3 in the top quarter of the range and a mid-range or a little higher Free T4, then the thyroid is being adequately treated, so most symptoms should start to disappear, but support for other possible problems like vitamin deficiencies and adrenal fatigue will need to be in place until they recover, too. On-going monitoring to maintain good thyroid levels are important, which should also help keep vitamin levels and adrenal gland function in check, too, along with any other associated conditions.

Many thyroid patients feel their GP isn’t sympathetic enough, or willing to run all the tests we need to properly check our thyroid levels, so some turn to ordering their own. Some also report their doctors being unhelpful in regards to considering other medication options, if standard T4-only medication doesn’t help them, as well as considering the fact that many other problems or health conditions can be linked to low thyroid function, especially if it’s inadequately treated.

You can find lots more, more-detailed posts on my blog about the many other areas of being hypothyroid, but this post is the general overview.

See also – Help! I’m New To This! if you’re new to the diagnosis of hypothyroidism.

You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given.

If you found this article beneficial, please take a moment to share it so we can help others get better with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's, whilst also raising awareness. "Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate."

Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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Rachel Hill, Thyroid Patient Advocate, blogger and author, has Six 2018 WEGO Health Award Nominations. She is a highly ranked writer appearing in the Top Hypothyroidism Websites and Top Thyroid Websites and has worked with The National Academy of Hypothyroidism, The BBC, The Mighty, Yahoo, MSN and ThyroidChange, to name just a few. She is well-recognised as a useful contributor to the thyroid community and also contributed the foreword to Emily Kyle’s The 30-Minute Thyroid Cookbook.

2 thoughts on “What is Hypothyroidism?

    1. Hi Sherry,

      Your doctor should be considering other medication options for you such as T3 and NDT. If they refuse, could you seek another’s opinion, please?

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