Your Health A-Z

Hypothyroidism can be treated: get tested

Have you gained weight and feel tired all the time? Do you seem to feel the cold more than most and do you feel down a lot of the time? If you answer yes to all or some of these questions, you may have hypothyroidism, which means your thyroid gland is underactive.

What is the thyroid and what does it do?

The thyroid is a small gland at the base of your neck that is part of your endocrine system. This gland produces the hormone thyroxine, which controls growth, metabolism, tissue function and reproduction, among other things. The thyroid needs to produce normal levels of thyroxine in order for the body to function optimally.

More specifically, thyroxine regulates metabolism, controls body temperature and governs the release of glucose from the liver. All of these processes help to control how nutrients are absorbed by the cells in the body. Thyroxine also regulates chemicals in the brain that govern mood and emotions as well as how your body reacts to changes in temperature.

How is hypothyroidism diagnosed?

‘Hypothyroidism is a disorder that can only be properly diagnosed through a blood test, as some of the symptoms may present as part of other health issues,’ says specialist physician and endocrinologist Dr Malcolm Sandler of Mediclinic Panorama.

‘The test will show higher levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and lower levels of free T4 (free thyroxine).’

Dr Sandler says hypothyroidism primarily affects women. ‘In older women, the cause is idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause,’ he explains. One can also get hypothyroidism if there’s a growth on the thyroid and half or some of it has been surgically removed, thereby decreasing the amount of thyroxine released.

Hypothyroidism in women in their 40s or younger could be as a result of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system starts to destroy the tissues of the thyroid.

What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Some of the signs that your thyroid may not be functioning well include:

  • a very low tolerance for cold
  • feeling tired all the time
  • weight gain without necessarily eating more
  • constipation
  • heavy periods (menorrhagia)
  • apathy
  • depression (that may develop as a result of hypothyroidism or can be exacerbated by it)
  • mental fog

Can it be treated?

The good news, says Dr Sandler, is that hypothyroidism can be treated. Once diagnosed, your physician will prescribe thyroid replacement therapy, which will return your body functions to normal.

One of the problems, however, is that the extra kilos gained could be difficult to shed. Dr Sandler says once you’re on the right dose of thyroxine, you will most likely be able to lose around 2 – 4kg of the weight gained. He adds that it’s advisable to stick to a healthy lifestyle – eating a balanced diet and doing regular exercise will also help shed the extra kilos.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.