Hypothyroidism is a condition characterized by abnormally low thyroid hormone production. There are many disorders that result in hypothyroidism. These disorders may directly or indirectly involve the thyroid gland. Because thyroid hormone affects growth, development, and many cellular processes, inadequate thyroid hormone has widespread consequences for the body.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism are often subtle. They are not specific (which means they can mimic the symptoms of many other conditions) and are often attributed to aging. Patients with mild hypothyroidism may have no signs or symptoms. The symptoms generally become more obvious as the condition worsens and the majority of these complaints are related to a metabolic slowing of the body.
A diagnosis of hypothyroidism can be suspected in patients with fatigue, cold intolerance, constipation, and dry, flaky skin. A blood test is needed to confirm the diagnosis.
When hypothyroidism is present, the blood levels of thyroid hormones can be measured directly and are usually decreased. However, in early hypothyroidism, the level of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) may be normal. Therefore, the main tool for the detection of hyperthyroidism is the measurement of the TSH, the thyroid stimulating hormone. As mentioned earlier, TSH is secreted by the pituitary gland. If a decrease of thyroid hormone occurs, the pituitary gland reacts by producing more TSH and the blood TSH level increases in an attempt to encourage thyroid hormone production. This increase in TSH can actually precede the fall in thyroid hormones by months or years (see the section on Subclinical Hypothyroidism below). Thus, the measurement of TSH should be elevated in cases of hypothyroidism.
Subclinical hypothyroidism refers to a state in which patients do not exhibit the symptoms of hypothyroidism. These patients also have a normal amount of circulating thyroid hormone. The only abnormality is an increased TSH on their blood work. This implies that the pituitary gland is working extra hard to maintain a normal circulating thyroid hormone level and that the thyroid gland requires extra stimulation by the pituitary to produce adequate hormones. The majority of these patients can be expected to progress to obvious hypothyroidism, especially if the TSH is above a certain level.
For women, there's sometimes a link between hypothyroidism and infertility. Low levels of thyroid hormone can interfere with ovulation, which impairs fertility. In addition, some of the underlying causes of hypothyroidism — such as certain autoimmune or pituitary disorders — impair fertility.
For women, treating hypothyroidism is an important part of any effort to correct infertility. However, sometimes it's not possible to fully restore fertility. In these cases, other interventions may be needed to treat infertility.
Common symptoms are listed below : -
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