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Hypothyroidism, a condition where inadequate levels of Thyroid hormones are present in the human body, is the leading disease to affect the endocrine system in the general population. With the importance of Thyroid hormones in mind, a number of problematic symptoms and health issues can develop when hormones produced by the Thyroid are not enough to support the various functions in the body that depend on them.
From digestive health to metabolism at a cellular level – the entire body relies on a rapid supply of these hormones to continue functioning.
Thyroid conditions, including both Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism, are far more prevalent in women than they are amongst men. Up to 2% of the worldwide population may be affected by Hypothyroidism, with the prevalence of the disease increasing significantly as age increases1.
At the age of 65 years, over 10% of people are affected by an underactive Thyroid gland. Congenital Hypothyroidism occurs in approximately one in every 4,000 newborn babies, and is considered to be the most common type of congenital disease.
While some of the symptoms caused by Hypothyroidism is well-known, there are some particular complications that the condition can lead to that does not always share an obvious connection. Additionally, several health conditions and diseases have also been connected in some ways to Hypothyroidism.
A better understanding about these connected conditions will help to deliver more effective approaches to the treatment of not only Hypothyroidism as a health ailment, but also the conditions that may be connected to this disease.
In this post, we want to focus on how Hypothyroidism could be a cause behind the retention of fluids in the body, as well as the development of swelling and puffiness in some areas.
This particular connection is somewhat more complex than the more common symptoms associated with Hypothyroidism, but still needs to be understood – especially by women who are experiencing fluid retention with no obvious reason as to why fluid may be accumulating in their body.
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
Knowledge about the possible causes of Hypothyroidism can help both men and women better understand why they may be suffering from this condition, as well as help individuals understand whether or not they are at a higher risk of developing an underactive Thyroid.
While there are numerous contributing factors and causes of Hypothyroidism, the most common disease that causes this condition is known as Hashimoto’s disease2. When a patient has Hashimoto’s disease and they develop Hypothyroidism, they are usually diagnosed with a condition referred to as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
The term “thyroiditis” refers to the inflammation in the Thyroid gland caused by Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue in the Thyroid. Some viral infections may also cause the Thyroid gland to become inflamed – in such a case, the condition is simply referred to as Thyroiditis.
There are other factors that can also cause the Thyroid gland to become underactive. Iodine deficiency is one particular issue that can lead to inadequate Thyroid hormones, since iodine is a key component of the hormones produced by the Thyroid gland.
Other factors that may also contribute to the inadequate production of hormones by the Thyroid gland include:
- Some types of pharmaceutical drugs, including lithium, interleukin-2, amiodarone and interferon alpha. Medication used to treat cancer may also interfere with the production of Thyroid hormones.
- Undergoing radioactive iodine therapy to treat Hyperthyroidism can also be a possible cause of low Thyroid hormone production.
- When surgery is performed to remove a part of the Thyroid, then a patient may also develop Hypothyroidism as a complication.
- When radiation therapy is used to treat certain cancers like lymphoma, then the neck may be a particular area where treatment is required. In such a case, the Thyroid gland may become impaired and start to produce an inadequate amount of Thyroid hormones.
Do You Have Hypothyroidism?
Identifying the symptoms of Hypothyroidism is the first step to determining whether you may be suffering from this condition, especially when you are faced with symptoms associated with a condition that may hold a connection to an underactive Thyroid gland.
Hypothyroidism means there are not enough Thyroid hormones to ensure all body processes, at a cellular level, can be executed fast enough. This causes a slowdown in digestive function and overall metabolic functions in the body3.
As a result, a patient with low Thyroid hormone levels in their body may become constipated, and they may frequently suffer from fatigue. Many patients find that their skin becomes dry, and memory function may also become impaired. Focus and concentration may become difficult, and depression is also not an uncommon complication of Hypothyroidism.
Over time, the slowdown in body functions may cause a person so gain excess weight, even when no particular changes have been made in their diet to signify the sudden gain in bodyweight.
How Does A Physician Diagnose Hypothyroidism?
One of the most significant problems faced in the healthcare industry due to Hypothyroidism is the fact that the condition can cause a wide range of different symptoms, and the symptoms appear differently in almost every patient.
The symptoms associated with Hypothyroidism are also common in many other health conditions, which makes it even harder for both the patient and their physician to consider Hypothyroidism as a possible cause initially.
Fortunately, there are different tests that can be used to diagnose Hypothyroidism4. For this reason, education about the symptoms that may signal the presence of the condition should be essential, especially to women.
When these symptoms present themselves, a person should request the appropriate tests from their physician in order to determine whether they may be suffering from Hypothyroidism.
Different tests can be utilized to determine if a patient has an underactive Thyroid gland:
- The original method of testing for Hypothyroidism, as well as other Thyroid-related diseases, including testing for serum Thyroid hormones (including thyroxine and triiodothyronine) in the bloodstream. Such a test will determine both total thyroxine and triiodothyronine, as well as free thyroxine and triiodothyronine.
- Tests can also be conducted to determine binding plasma protein levels in the bloodstream. These tests will determine levels of Transthyretin, Albumin, Thyroxine Binding Globulin and Prealbumin.
- Newer tests also allow laboratories to determine serum levels of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone and Thyrotropin in the bloodstream.
After these tests have been performed, a physician will be able to determine if the Thyroid may be dysfunctional and producing inadequate levels of Thyroid hormones to support metabolism of cells throughout the patient’s body.
What Is The Connection Between Hypothyroidism And Fluid Retention?
Many physicians have found a strong connection between fluid retention in the body and Hypothyroidism. This connection is often made when a patient complains about accompanying symptoms, apart from the fluid retention.
Accompanying symptoms often include fatigue, unexpected weight gain, and depression. The connection between these two health ailments is somewhat complicated – Hypothyroidism will not directly cause a patient to experience an accumulation of fluids in their body, but the complications that the condition causes can lead to fluid retention.
In particular, Hypothyroidism is known to cause a decrease in the internal temperature of the human body. In turn, the reduced temperatures of the internal body can cause an accumulation of fluids in the body. One particular way in which colder temperatures causes fluid retention is caused by a decreased expression of the ETB receptor protein5.
When the expression of this receptor protein is decreased, reabsorption of water is increased, which can cause water accumulation in certain parts of the body.
How Can Hypothyroidism Be Treated?
Several guidelines have been introduced to assist physicians with providing appropriate treatment options for patients who they diagnose with Hypothyroidism.
At the moment, the most effective approach to the treatment of Hypothyroidism is to provide the patient with a synthetic type of Thyroid hormone that can provide the patient with the lack of Thyroid hormone in their body. Originally, patients were provided with medication known as levothyroxine, which is a synthetic type of thyroxine (T4). This is a less potent form of Thyroid hormone that the body needs to convert to triiodothyronine (T3) to provide a more effective impact on metabolism.
Modern approaches to the treatment of Hypothyroidism have provided a more effective method for improving overall Thyroid hormone function. Physicians are now starting to acknowledge the fact that only administering a patient with levothyroxine is not the most effective way to help relieve their symptoms.
Instead, a combination therapy that utilizes synthetic triiodothyronine and levothyroxine helps to boost both T3 and T4 Thyroid hormone levels in the patient’s body6. When both hormones are provided through the treatment plan, the patient will usually experience a faster, and more significant level of relieve in regards to the symptoms they experience, as metabolic functions will be able to return to normal.
While the current treatment options are effective, physicians and patients also need to take into account that it may take some time to find the right dosage strength and dosage timing. When the dosage is inadequate, improvement may not be observed, but if the dosage is too strong, the patient may start to exert symptoms associated with Hyperthyroidism.
This can create a whole new problem to solve for both the patient and their physician.
Still, the majority of patients will find that the first treatment plan provided to them does not offer them the best results possible. Continuous blood samples may be requested by the physician to help them understand how the patient’s body is responding to the treatment, and to provide appropriate adjustments in the medications used – both in dosage strength and timing – to help the patient find the perfect approach to treating their Hypothyroidism.
In addition to the pharmaceutical approaches that are available to assist with increasing levels of Thyroid hormones in patients with Hypothyroidism, it should be noted that there are methods that can be utilized in order to reduce fluid retention in the body as well. These may be appropriate to utilize while administering levothyroxine or other medication for the treatment of Hypothyroidism.
Diuretics can be used to help flush the excess water out of the body, but should only be provided to the patient for a limited time.
Continued use of diuretics may cause fluid retention to become worse, as well as lead to kidney damage and dehydration7.
Thyroid function can be affected by diseases, medication, injury, tumors, inflammation and even by certain lifestyle factors. Hypothyroidism is the most common condition to affect Thyroid function, and can result in weight gain, fatigue and other symptoms.
Fluid retention may also occur in patients with an underactive Thyroid gland, due to the reduction in body temperatures.
Optimal treatment of Thyroid dysfunction through the administration of levothyroxine or a similar approach can help to restore optimal Thyroid hormones in the body, and possibly improve the symptoms a patient is experiencing.
Fluid retention may also be reduced through the right treatment options provided to a patient who has been diagnosed with Hypothyroidism.
1 Mario Skugor. Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism. Cleveland Clinic: Center for Continuing Education. August 2014. http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/endocrinology/hypothyroidism-and-hyperthyroidism/
2 Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/women/hypothyroidism-underactive-thyroid-symptoms-causes-treatments#1
3 Hypothyroidism (Underactive). American Thyroid Association. https://www.thyroid.org/hypothyroidism/
4 Pathophysiology and Diagnosis of Thyroid Disease. Medicare Coverage of Routine Screening for Thyroid Dysfunction. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221541/
5 Zhongjie Sun. Cardiovascular responses to cold exposure. HHS Public Access. 1 January 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2826836/
6 Ali J. Chakera, Simon H.S. Pearce, Bijay Vaidya. Treatment for primary hypothyroidism: current approaches and future possibilities. Dovepress. 22 December 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3267517/
7 Christian Nordqvist. What’s to know about water retention? Medical News Today. 5 December 2017. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/187978.php