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Low Thyroid


The thyroid, a small endocrine gland located in the front of the neck in front of the windpipe, plays a vital role in correctly maintaining the body’s metabolic rate, which helps govern the production of energy. A low thyroid function usually implies that insufficient thyroxine, the hormone produced by the thyroid gland, is being transported around the body via the bloodstream.


There are various symptoms that might indicate that a person is suffering from low thyroid function and, although it is unlikely that one person could experience them all, it is likely that more than one of them will be experienced.

The general slowing down of the functions of the body caused by an underactive, or low-producing, thyroid, can induce fatigue, depression, problems involving concentration and memory, a slowing of the heart rate and corresponding low blood pressure, a possible croaky voice, a change in condition of the skin, nails and hair, heavy and irregular periods, feeling cold at inappropriate times and an increase in weight.

Because none of these symptoms is unique to hyperthyroidism it is not always obvious that this is the problem. Many people will attribute the symptoms to a virus, a change in life or simply growing older and so the actual cause might remain undiagnosed for a considerable time. As the level of thyroxine in the body continues to fall, however, the problems will become exacerbated. Continued low thyroid levels without medical intervention could increase a person’s chances of developing heart disease, mainly because the low level of thyroxine results in an increase in the body’s cholesterol levels. Similarly, untreated hypothyroidism during pregnancy can, in severe cases, lead to anaemia, premature labour, low birth weight or stillbirth, and various other complications. One of the most severe complications is the thankfully extremely unusual hypothyroid coma.

However, with medical treatment, the symptoms will normally go, without any complications or side effects.
The causes of low thyroid function are various. A quite common cause is that it arises because of an autoimmune disease causing the immune system to make antibodies that attack the thyroid. There is evidence that the problem can also be genetically transmitted, especially amongst families with a history of Graves’ Disease. About a third of people with Down’s Syndrome are expected to develop hypothyroidism before they reach 25 years of age. Some children are born with an underactive thyroid but this is usually diagnosed after about a week and is treatable immediately. Finally, another frequent cause of the problem is a reaction to medication – people taking lithium, for example, are susceptible, as are people being treated for hyperthyroidism who have been wrongly prescribed.

The conventional medical treatment for hypothyroidism is the taking of levothyroxine tablets to replace the thyroxine that is not being manufactured naturally. It is usual for a low dose to be administered at first and then gradually increased if it is proved to be necessary. Blood tests will then be regularly carried out to monitor the situation. For the majority of sufferers, this treatment is a life-long process, but it is not an irksome procedure and, as the medication is replacing a natural hormone of the body, there are unlikely to be any side effects. An annual blood test to check that your thyroid condition has stabilised is then generally sufficient for most people to be able to live their lives to the full again.