Some symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as weight gain, skin changes and fatigue, are commonly known. There are, however, subtle symptoms which come on gradually and may be difficult to identify. Learning how to recognize these small and lesser-known symptoms of hypothyroidism can help with early and effective diagnosis of this condition, leading to treatment and an improved quality of life.
Hypothyroidism describes a condition in which the thyroid gland produces a below average amount of the thyroid hormone. The thyroid gland is located in the front of the throat area, below the larynx. This gland has an important role in maintaining the overall health of the human body as it is the body's "regulator"--working to help keep the heart, metabolism and cholesterol levels balanced. If deprived of the necessary levels of thyroid hormones, the body struggles to compensate and is unable to thrive.
Changes to the heart due to hypothyroidism are often subtle and not easy to detect. The heart has a significant ability to adapt to change and hypothyroidism may not initially create noticeable symptoms. However, as the disease goes untreated, the heart begins to struggle to pump blood efficiently since the thyroid hormone is a major contributor in the health of the heart vessels. As these blood vessels stiffen, hypertension can result, bringing on high blood pressure, dizziness and sometimes nosebleeds.
Women who have untreated hypothyroidism can experience changes to ovulation due to disruption in their menstrual cycles caused by hypothyroidism. If a pregnant woman has or develops hypothyroidism after conception, there is a greater chance of miscarriage or incorrect development of the fetus. Children born to women with this condition are at a greater risk of birth defects and may not develop intellectually at a normal rate.
Depression is a condition that is difficult to diagnose, as the causes can range from situational to physical. The pituitary gland regulates the level of thyroid hormone and works in concert with the brain in balancing how much is needed. When this balance is incorrect, depression can set in and create symptoms of apathy, lack of interest in outside activities or even slow speech. If hypothyroidism is untreated for long periods, dementia risks increase in older adults.
A variety of other symptoms are related to hypothyroidism. Since hypothyroidism effects the functioning of the blood vessels and overall health of the circulatory system, many patients suffer with anemia which is low iron levels in the blood. This can bring on headaches, dizziness, leg cramps and rapid heart beat. A rare condition called myxedma coma is related to hypothyroidism and symptoms are seizures and urine retention.