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One of the most frequent questions I was asked in my gynecology practice was, "I am gaining weight; is it due to my thyroid?" This was usually asked with great anticipation that I had a magic pill that would melt the weight away, usually within one week (this is America, after all, where everything takes a week).
Unfortunately, thyroid problems usually account for weight gain in only 1% of patients. I had to disappoint many people when I told them there was no magic pill. Even with an under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism), usually treatment did not cause any significant weight loss.
Dr Bollmann, Anti-Aging Expert
Here are some facts about thyroid disease:
Thyroid disorders are more common in women. For example, women are about 50 times more likely than men to suffer from an under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism). Some scientists theorize that female hormones, such as estrogen, may be a factor in triggering autoimmune conditions, including problems with the thyroid. But no one knows for sure why women are more susceptible.
The thyroid gland is a small gland in your neck that produces hormones that regulate how you use energy. Thyroid hormones influence how your organ systems perform: how fast or how slow they consume oxygen, produce proteins, and respond to other hormones.
Sometimes thyroid glands don't function properly. If your thyroid gland is underactive, producing less thyroid hormone than normal, you're said to have hypothyroidism. If your thyroid is overactive, producing more thyroid hormone than normal, it's called hyperthyroidism.
People with an underactive thyroid gland often gain weight because their thyroid hormones are insufficient and, consequently, the body's metabolism slows down. This leads to retention of salt and water and fat. People with an overactive thyroid gland often lose weight as their metabolism speeds up. (But not always, and frequently not much). To lose, diet and exercise are necessary in addition to medication.
Symptoms of an under-active thyroid gland are associated with a slowing metabolism. In addition to fatigue and weight gain, symptoms can include depression, constipation, sluggishness, dry skin and dry hair, and muscle cramps. Some people develop an enlarged thyroid, which leads to a swelling in the front of the neck known as a "goiter."
Most women enter menopause in their late 40s and early 50s, and experts aren’t sure why this age group is more susceptible to hypothyroidism. Some researchers think it may be related to hormonal changes.
Symptoms of an overactive thyroid gland are generally symptoms of an increased metabolism. These can include weight loss, nervousness or anxiety, irritability, a racing heart, increased bowel movements, sweating, sleeplessness, hand tremors, and muscle weakness.
Pregnant women go through a number of physiological changes that affect the thyroid gland. In particular, pregnancy brings on higher levels of hormones, such as estrogen, which can alter the levels of thyroid hormones in the blood.
In most cases, the thyroid usually continues to function properly. But the hormonal stresses of pregnancy can bring on either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Thyroid problems can be difficult to diagnose during pregnancy because the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction are often similar to the normal symptoms of pregnancy (fatigue, weight gain, changes in mood or sleeping patterns). Pregnant women should be monitored for potential thyroid problems.
The most common cause of an overactive thyroid gland is Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing it to produce too much thyroid hormone. An underactive thyroid is most often caused by Hashimoto's disease, which occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing chronic inflammation and interfering with the production of thyroid hormones.
Hyperthyroidism also can be caused by a thyroid nodule, and hypothyroidism also can be caused by iodine deficiency or problems associated with the pituitary gland.
Thyroid problems -- including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism -- tend to run in families.
The American Thyroid Association recommends that adults be screened for thyroid dysfunction beginning at age 35, and once every five years afterward. Screening involves a simple blood test to measure the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), and possibly other hormones, in your bloodstream.
The preferred treatment for an underactive thyroid is a synthetic version of the main thyroid hormone, thyroxine. For many years, thyroid hormones taken from animals (mainly pigs) were used to treat hypothyroidism -- and similar supplements are still sold today. But their quality and effectiveness can vary widely. Synthetic thyroxine is much safer.
Treatment options for hyperthyroidism include antithyroid drugs that block the gland’s ability to produce thyroid hormone; radioactive iodine, which damages the cells that make thyroid hormone; and surgery to remove the thyroid gland. Factors that help determine the course of treatment are the patient’s age, the type of hyperthyroidism involved, the severity of the condition, and other conditions affecting the patient’s health.
Untreated thyroid disease can lead to a number of very serious long-term problems, including heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, infertility, mental deficiencies, and miscarriage or other pregnancy-related issues.
There's no evidence that thyroid problems can lead to thyroid cancer. However, because thyroid cancer is often the result of ionizing radiation that can damage the thyroid gland, people with thyroid cancer can suffer from an underactive thyroid. Thyroid cancer is only rarely found in people with a history of hyperthyroidism.
Parts of this blog excerpted from Web MD.
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