The symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary greatly depending on how old the person is. However, for example, weight gain and listlessness are typical.
Hypothyroidism usually develops gradually, which is why symptoms often appear late. The treatment of hypothyroidism is always medically (L-thyroxine, levothyroxine) to compensate for the lack of hormones.
What is a hypothyroidism?
Thyroid hypofunction (hypothyroidism) means that the body is not sufficiently supplied with the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). There are different reasons for this.
Hypothyroidism is one of the most common hormonal diseases. The incidence of hypothyroidism increases with age:
- 1 out of 5,000 newborns are born with hypothyroidism.
- About 1 to 2 out of 200 people are affected by hypothyroidism, women more often than men.
In adulthood, hypothyroidism usually develops slowly. At first, the affected person usually notices any or hardly any complaints. Symptoms usually occur only with a stronger underfunction and can be individually different.
However, there are some symptoms typical of hypothyroidism:
- Performance decline: fatigue and increased need for sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of interest
- Sensitivity to cold
- Constipation (constipation)
- Increased susceptibility to infection
- Cool, dry, flaky, pale yellow skin
- Brittle, straw hair
- Brittle nails
- Rough, hoarse voice
- Weight gain (reduced metabolic rate)
- Slowed heartbeat (bradycardia)
- Early onset arteriosclerosis (arteriosclerosis) due to elevated cholesterol levels
- Cycle disorders (in women)
- Disorders of fertility, libido and virility
- Weakened muscle reflexes
A rare symptom of hypothyroidism is the myxedema coma.
As a result of an increased incorporation of certain substances (protein-sugar-acid compounds) in the subcutaneous fatty tissue, the skin is often doughy distended in people with hypothyroidism (so-called myxedema), especially in the region around the eyes and on the back of the hand. Through myxedema of the vocal cords and tongue, the voice may sound rough and washed out.
A very rare, severe manifestation of myxedema is myxedema coma. It can arise when hypothyroidism is inadequately treated or unrecognized for a long time and there are other factors that weaken the patient (e.g., infection, surgery). Symptoms of myxedema are:
- low blood pressure (hypotension),
- greatly lowered body temperature as well
- a slowed or superficial respiration (hypoventilation).
A myxedema coma is an emergency that needs to be treated in the intensive care unit.
Especially in older people with hypothyroidism, only a few of the symptoms are common. Mild forms of hypothyroidism are therefore often overlooked. Older people should therefore be tested for hypothyroidism if their physical and mental state is not their age or if depression and memory problems occur.
As a result of untreated hypothyroidism, both the physical and mental development of neonates is delayed. In Germany, there is a statutory screening (screening) of all newborns for hypothyroidism. If hypothyroidism is detected, therapy with tablets will follow immediately.
Newborns with hypothyroidism have the following symptoms after birth:
- They drink little (drinking laziness).
- They suffer from constipation.
- They move little (lack of movement).
- The skin remains yellow longer (so-called Icterus prolongatus, prolonged neonatal ictus).
Children whose thyroid hypofunction is not treated may develop the following symptoms:
- Short stature with short stature
- Disturbed speech ability
- Delayed puberty
- Degraded intelligence
- Hardness of hearing
- Speech disorder
- Extremely rare: cretinism
Thyroid hypofunction (hypothyroidism) can have many causes:
- If the function of the thyroid itself is disturbed, it is called primary hypothyroidism. It is by far the most common form of hypothyroidism.
- In rare secondary hypothyroidism, the pituitary gland (pituitary gland) - the control center of many glands - releases too few hormones, so the thyroid is not stimulated.
- Extremely rare is the function of the so-called hypothalamus disturbed. The hypothalamus is part of the diencephalon and controls the pituitary gland as a superior center. The scientific term for hypothyroidism, which is caused by disorders in the hypothalamus, is tertiary hypothyroidism.
If a thyroid defect results in hypothyroidism, it is a primary hypothyroidism. The cause then lies in the organ itself.
Such hyperthyroidism may be innate, for example if the thyroid gland is completely absent or too small. Congenital hypothyroidism can also occur if the iodine utilization is disturbed by a gene defect. That is, the body has enough iodine available, but it can not incorporate it into the thyroid hormones.
Significantly more often, however, the hypothyroidism is acquired in the course of life. The cause of this is usually a loss or destruction of originally functional thyroid tissue, for example according to:
- Inflammation of the thyroid (thyroiditis), especially as a result of an autoimmune disease (Hashimoto's thyroiditis), in which the body directs its antibodies against the tissue of the thyroid and destroys it.
- Thyroid surgery e.g. due to hyperthyroidism (hyperthyroidism).
- Irradiation of the thyroid gland.
- Taking certain medications (such as antithyroid drugs).
- Radioiodine therapy.
Radioiodine therapy is used to treat hyperthyroidism. Radioactive radiation destroys excess hormone-producing tissue. In some cases, this leads to hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism may in rare cases be due to an extreme deficiency of the vital (essential) trace element iodine. This is favored by the fact that in Germany some regions are iodine deficient areas.
Secondary hypothyroidism occurs when, due to disorders of the pituitary gland (pituitary gland), for example, by tumors, a thyroid gland with thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is absent. The thyroid itself is completely intact. This form of hypothyroidism is very rare.
Tertiary hypothyroidism is a hypothalamic disorder that does not produce enough thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH). This breaks the control loop between the brain and the thyroid and does not stimulate the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones.
Possible causes are plant defects, tumors or inflammations. This form of hypothyroidism is very rare.
In congenital thyroid hypofunction (hypothyroidism), the diagnosis is usually made very early today due to a legal provision: For each newborn between the third and fifth day of life, the thyroid function (so-called neonatal screening) is examined. The concentration of certain thyroid hormones is determined with the help of a few drops of blood taken from the heel. This investigation also occurs when older children, adolescents or adults are suspected of having hypothyroidism.
- A normal TSH value excludes thyroid disorders, an elevated level confirms hypothyroidism.
- A low level of free thyroxine confirms hypothyroidism.
Thyroid scores also provide an indication of what form of hypothyroidism is present.
Since a certain form of thyroiditis, the so-called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, often causes a hypofunction of the thyroid, a blood sample should be examined for the presence of specific antibodies. They arise in the context of this autoimmune disease and are called TPO antibodies and thyroglobulin antibodies. They attack healthy endogenous tissue, which then loses its function.
Ultrasound examination (sonography) can also be used to check the condition of the thyroid gland and to determine if, for example, there are any nodules. However, statements about the functional efficiency of the thyroid can not be made in this way.
When thyroid hypofunction (hypothyroidism) is treated with the necessary thyroid hormones, one can usually expect an uncomplicated course: performance or lifetime are in no way limited.
If a child's hypothyroidism is treated with medication in time, it will not endanger the baby's development. Congenital hypothyroidism, however, can lead to complications untreated: Children with untreated congenital hypothyroidism remain mentally and show a developmental disorder (so-called cretinism).
Typical long-term consequences of childhood hypothyroidism include:
- speech disorders
- growth arrears (reduced body size)
- maturation residue (bone and tooth age)
- mental and psychological retardation (children are lagging behind in development)
- hardness of hearing
- speech disorders
Inadequately treated or unrecognized hypothyroidism can in rare cases lead to the so-called myxedema coma, which is characterized by
- low blood pressure,
- low temperature as well
- characterized by slow or superficial respiration (hypoventilation).
In this case, immediate intensive medical help is necessary.
Hypothyroidism is treated with medications that contain the necessary thyroid hormones. Among other things, the iodine-containing thyroid hormones T3 and T4 stimulate cell metabolism and are necessary for normal body growth. An active ingredient commonly used in treatment of hypothyroidism is levothyroxine (L-thyroxine).
The actually effective hormone is triiodothyronine - it is formed in the blood from L-thyroxine by an iodine atom is split off from this.
If there is a congenital hypothyroidism, the missing hormones must be replaced immediately, so that the development of the brain and other organs is not impaired. Thanks to the newborn screening, doctors recognize the congenital forms of hypothyroidism today in the first days after birth, so that the treatment can start immediately. Those affected must take the hormones regularly for life.
Adults with severe (manifest) hypothyroidism must regularly and permanently take thyroid hormones in order to achieve sufficient concentration.
Treatment with thyroid hormones usually begins with a low dose, which is then slowly increased. Hormone status should be checked periodically using a blood test to adjust the dose if necessary. Side effects do not occur with correct dosage.
Treatment of a myxedema coma
If hypothyroidism is not treated, it can rarely result in a so-called myxedema coma. Then intensive care assistance is necessary. It includes:
- Respiratory Equipment,
- the intake of steroid hormones (glucocorticoids),
- a glucose infusion,
- the regulation of the electrolyte and water balance,
- the administration of levothyroxine (L-thyroxine) and
- if necessary, a reheating.
It is not possible to prevent hypothyroidism, nor to heal it. All you can do is keep the symptoms at bay using the treatment.
If severe iodine deficiency causes hypothyroidism, you can improve iodine intake by consistently using iodized table salts. It is also recommended to eat sea fish twice a week as sea fish contains a lot of iodine. To cover the daily needs safely, you can take in addition to Jodräparate in consultation with your doctor.
But beware: During pregnancy and lactation, other guidelines for the iodine requirement apply!