Hypothyroidism is commonly referred to as underactive thyroid and is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones.  It’s much more common in women than in men with approximately one in every eight women developing a thyroid condition in her lifetime.  It is estimated that more than 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid condition and up to 60 percent of those with a condition are unaware.

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the front your neck and is primarily responsible for regulating metabolism.  Thyroid hormones also affect other critical body functions including energy level, heart rate, brain development, body temperature, skin dryness, weight and menstrual cycles.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary from person-to-person depending on the severity of the condition and may include fatigue, weight gain, hair loss/thinning hair, cold intolerance, joint/muscle pain, constipation, dry skin and depression.

Typically, symptoms develop over the course of a couple years and may become more obvious over time.  Left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to an enlarged thyroid, or goiter, forgetfulness and depression.

Hypothyroidism is caused primarily by Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease which results in chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland.  Other causes include congenital hypothyroidism, surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid, radiation on the thyroid and some medications.

Being a woman over the age of 60, having an autoimmune disease, receiving radiation to your upper chest or neck or having recently been pregnant or delivered a baby can also increase your risk of hypothyroidism.

Diagnosis of a thyroid condition is relatively easy and the various available treatment options are safe and effective.

Treatment for hypothyroidism typically involves taking oral medications made of synthetic thyroid hormones.  Daily use of this medication can help establish and restore normal hormone levels and reverse the symptoms of hypothyroidism.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms – especially exhaustion, dry skin or constipation – without reason, you should see your doctor. And be sure to disclose any medications and supplements that you take to your physician to ensure you don’t experience any interactions.