When the thyroid gland does not produce and release enough thyroid hormone into the bloodstream is called hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. As a result, your metabolism can slow down and you may notice weight gain, tiredness, and inability to tolerate cold temperatures. In most cases, physicians prescribe hormone replacement therapy for those who experience this health condition.

What is Hypothyroidism?

When there is not enough thyroid hormone in the bloodstream and slowed metabolism, it usually is caused by a health condition called hypothyroidism. Furthermore, if a person experiences very low thyroid hormone levels, it may lead to myxedema. It is a serious condition that can provoke the following symptoms. Examples include:

  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Heart failure
  • Anemia
  • A low body temperature

Myxedema is a severe form of hypothyroidism that is life-threatening. Generally, underactive thyroid is a treatable condition usually with regular medicine use and regular check-ups.

How Does The Thyroid Gland Work?

A small gland located in the front of the neck (a butterfly-shaped organ) and under the larynx (voice box) is called the thyroid. This gland mainly is responsible for controlling metabolism. Therefore, the process in which your body transforms food into energy is called metabolism. In normal circumstances, to control metabolism, the thyroid gland produces hormones T3 and T4. However, this gland also helps to control body temperature and heart rate.

If your thyroid gland works properly, it releases the hormones and produces new hormones. In addition, the amount of thyroid hormones in your bloodstream is controlled by the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is located below the brain and it helps to adjust thyroid hormone levels if it is reduced or increased.

However, if a person experiences hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), the whole body is negatively affected.

Additionally, anyone can experience an underactive thyroid but usually affects people over 60 years old, especially women. In any case, females develop this health condition after menopause.


Check below some hypothyroidism symptoms:

  • Increase in body weight
  • Constipation
  • Numbness and tingling in hands
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Increased cholesterol levels in the blood
  • Depression
  • Dry and coarse hair and skin
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Frequently experience heavy menstrual periods
  • Feeling more forgetful
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Puffiness of the face and eyes
  • Hoarse and lower voice

If hypothyroidism is left untreated, it may cause weight gain. However, it is recommended to treat the condition, monitor your calories, and perform exercises to lose weight. You can also consult with your doctor about how to lose weight and diet.


Usually, an underactive thyroid occurs due to primary or secondary causes. The primary cause is when a health condition impact directly the thyroid gland, which makes it produce fewer hormones. The secondary cause happens when something (including disease or injury) impacts the pituitary gland. As a result, the thyroid gland does not receive signals from the pituitary gland (TSH) that help to balance thyroid hormones.

However, primary causes are more often diagnosed than secondary. One of the most common primary causes is an autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s disease). This health condition is also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. In any case, this condition often passes from parents to children. If a person experiences this condition, the immune system mistakenly attacks its own thyroid gland. Check below other primary causes of hypothyroidism:

  • Thyroiditis (thyroid gland inflammation)
  • Hyperthyroidism (surgical removal of the thyroid gland)
  • Iodine deficiency
  • Hereditary diseases

Rarely, you may experience an underactive thyroid gland after pregnancy (postpartum thyroiditis) or due to a viral infection.

Hypothyroidism after Pregnancy

Mostly, people with an underactive thyroid during pregnancy have Hashimoto’s disease. Additionally, the thyroid hormone is very important for fetal development because these hormones help to develop the brain and nervous system. Furthermore, women with hypothyroidism may feel extreme tiredness, muscle cramps, and problems with cold temperatures. Not treating this condition during pregnancy may lead to miscarriage and preterm labor.


In some cases, diagnosing an underactive thyroid may be difficult because symptoms are very similar to other diseases. However, physicians will perform a physical examination for thyroid gland enlargement and order you to do a blood test (thyroid stimulating hormone test). It is not advised to administer any medications without a doctor’s recommendation because it may not be effective or even worsen your condition.


This is a treatable condition that commonly involves regular medicine use for the rest of your life. Proper medication use and regular check-ups usually lead to a healthy life. In most cases, hormone replacement therapy is used. Healthcare providers usually prescribe Levothyroxine for people with hypothyroidism.


If you leave an underactive thyroid untreated it may lead to some complications. Moreover, this condition may become serious and life-threatening if you do not get the treatment from a doctor. Check below some examples:

However, myxedema can lead to coma if an underactive thyroid is not treated.

Is it Possible to Prevent Hypothyroidism?

Unfortunately, you cannot do anything to prevent this condition. Hence, if you suspect you have or experience hypothyroidism symptoms, immediately contact your healthcare professional. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent any future complications.

What Foods Can Help My Hypothyroidism?

It is advised to eat foods rich in iodine. This is a mineral that helps the thyroid gland to produce hormones. Check below some examples:

  • Edible seaweed
  • Iodized salt
  • Meat, poultry and seafood
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs

If you are unsure what foods you should include in your diet, discuss it with your healthcare professional or dietician.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does birth control affect my thyroid?

Birth control pills contain estrogen and progesterone. These medicines can affect the thyroid-binding proteins, which leads to an increase in thyroid hormone levels.

Can hypothyroidism provoke erectile dysfunction (ED)?

Rarely, an underactive thyroid gland may cause ED. However, hypothyroidism can be provoked by a problem with the pituitary gland, which also causes low testosterone levels. Thus, receiving treatment for hypothyroidism may help to improve erectile function. This treatment helps only if the ED is provoked by a hormone imbalance.

Will I have the same dose of medicine for my entire life?

No, the dosages are adjusted by your doctor regularly. It is done because the same dose may not work every time properly usually because of weight gain or loss. That’s why it is advised to have regular appointments with your doctor to verify if the medicine works correctly. Consult with your doctor for more details.

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