The butterfly-shaped thyroid gland is located in your neck and keeps numerous processes in your body under control. It produces special hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which help to maintain appropriate body temperature, use energy from foods and promote brain, heart and muscles function.
If the levels of thyroid hormones drop, you may experience unexplained fatigue, depression, drowsiness, muscle cramps, constipation and unexplained weight gain. Lack of thyroid hormones is called hypothyroidism.
When the body's cells don't get a sufficient amount of thyroid hormones, all the processes in your body become impaired and slow.
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The most frequent cause of an underactive thyroid gland is an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto's thyroiditis. In this disease your immune cells mistakenly perceive your thyroid tissue as a foreign agent and begin to attack it.
It's not clear enough why a human's immune system produces antibodies against its own body’s cells. Specialists consider genetics and viral triggers as the main culprits of this disorder.
Studies show that women are more likely to suffer from Hashimoto's thyroiditis than men.
The other common reason of thyroid hormone deficiency is a partial or complete surgical excision of the thyroid gland, which was performed to cure hyperthyroidism, thyroid cancer or goiter.
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Surgical removal is not the only method of treating hyperthyroidism. Sometimes radioactive iodine is used to cope with an overactive thyroid gland. Radiation treatment is also a common procedure in people with head or neck cancer, lymphoma and Hodgkin's disease. The problem is that this treatment can lead to reduced production of thyroid hormones.
Be aware that some medications such as amiodarone, lithium, interleukin-2 and interferon alpha can also disturb normal synthesis of thyroid hormones.
In more rare cases low levels of thyroxine and triiodothyronine may be connected with a congenital defect of the butterfly-shaped gland.
Your thyroid gland's work is normally managed by the pituitary gland. If it doesn't work properly, production of thyroid hormones may be also disrupted.
The mineral iodine is required to produce a suitable amount of T3 and T4 hormones. If your body doesn't get the needed amount of this element from seafood, iodized salt and seaweed, problems can occur. Fortunately iodine deficiency is a sporadic trouble in the US.
We don't have the ability to renew the work of your thyroid gland but it is possible to compensate it with a synthetic hormone called levothyroxine (Levoxyl, Synthroid).
This replacement therapy helps reduce the symptoms of hypothyroidism and restore normal functioning of the thyroid gland.
It's important to select the right dose of this drug for you individually in order to avoid side effects like sleeplessness, shortness of breath, irritability, increased appetite etc.
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