The glands of the endocrine system are some of the body’s unsung heroes. They produce hormones that help make many of the body’s most basic functions possible. Endocrine glands help regulate metabolism, shape mood and direct organ function, among many other roles.
Despite their importance, the thyroid, adrenal glands and other endocrine glands are easy to forget about — until they become diseased or dysfunctional. Hypothyroidism is a condition that can sap your energy and cause a variety of other symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at this disease of the thyroid gland.
Nestled in the front of your neck, the thyroid gland makes the thyroid hormone, which helps direct energy use in the body. Sometimes the thyroid doesn’t make enough of this hormone. A shortage of thyroid hormone forces the body to pump the brakes on many important processes causing them to slow down.
Hypothyroidism can develop for a variety of reasons, but the most common is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s disease, which causes the immune system to attack the thyroid and slow down hormone production.
Signs of a Slowdown
Hypothyroidism gradually develops. Over time, you may often feel abnormally tired or get easily chilled — both are signs of a sluggish metabolism. Other symptoms include:
- Dry skin or hair
- Facial swelling
- Heavier menstrual periods
- Reduced sweating
- Muscle pain or weakness
- Slow heart rate
- Weight gain
It’s difficult to diagnose hypothyroidism based on symptoms alone, so your physician will likely recommend tests to check thyroid hormone levels in your blood.
Replacing What’s Been Lost
No cure exists for hypothyroidism, but people with this condition can still enjoy an excellent quality of life by taking medication such as levothyroxine. This replaces missing thyroid hormone with a man-made version that acts the same way.
If you have hypothyroidism, your physician will help you determine the proper dose of levothyroxine. Balance is key — taking too much of the drug can cause side effects and too little won’t help control hypothyroidism. Be sure to report any new or ongoing symptoms to your physician.