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Risk factors for hypothyroidism

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People who are more susceptible to hypothyroidism are:

  • A woman aged 50 and over
  • A man aged 60 and over
  • A person with a family history of thyroid problems
  • A person under medications containing iodine or lithium, or amiodarone (Cordarone)
  • A person with high cholesterol
  • A person suffering from autoimmune diseases like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
  • A person who underwent thyroid surgery
  • A person currently undergoing radiation therapy (particularly with radioactive iodine)
Untreated hypothyroidism can lead to a number of health problems:

Infertility: The process of ovulation is affected by the low levels of thyroid hormone thereby resulting in infertility. Moreover, some of the causes of hypothyroidism like autoimmune disorder also impair fertility. However, thyroid hormone replacement therapy used for treating hypothyroidism may not fully restore fertility. 

Children of Untreated Mothers: Pregnant women suffering from untreated hypothyroidism have a higher risk of giving birth to babies within born defects. These children are also at risk for impaired mental performance. The child may suffer from verbal impairments and attention problems. Studies reveal that some of the children born to women with subclinical hypothyroidism reported lower IQ levels. However, others reported no significant problems.

Infants: Infants suffering from untreated hypothyroidism from birth suffer from serious problems related to physical as well as mental development. However, if the presence of hypothyroidism is detected within the first few months of life, the chances of normal development are very high.

Goiter: Hashimoto thyroiditis is one of the most common causes of a goiter. When the gland is stimulated to release more and more hormones, sometimes it grows in size and becomes larger thereby forming a goiter. Though goiters are usually not uncomfortable, they affect the appearance badly. However, some of them may interfere with the swallowing or breathing.

Unhealthy cholesterol levels: Hypothyroidism raises levels of total cholesterol, LDL (the so-called bad cholesterol), triglycerides, and other lipids (fat molecules) associated with heart disease.

Mild high blood pressure: Hypothyroidism may slow the heart rate to less than 60 beats per minute, thereby reducing the heart's pumping capacity. It also increases the stiffness of the blood vessel walls. All these conditions may lead to high blood pressure. Moreover, hypothyroidism patients have high risk of developing hypertension.

Heart failure: The capacity of the heart muscle to contract is affected by hypothyroidism. This eventually increases the risk of heart failure in people with heart disease. Hypothyroidism also increases the size of the heart and causes heart failure.

Mental health issues: During the early stage of hypothyroidism, the patient may suffer from depression. This depression becomes more and more severe over the time if hypothyroidism is left untreated. Hypothyroidism may also result in slowed down mental functioning.

Myxedema: If hypothyroidism is left untreated for a long time, it results in a rare, life-threatening condition called myxedema. The symptoms of myxedema are: intense cold intolerance and drowsiness followed by profound lethargy and unconsciousness. At times sedatives, infection or other stress on the body triggers a state called myxedema coma. A person suffering from myxedema coma should be immediately taken under emergency medical supervision.

Next page: Diet for hypothyroidism

Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: April 16, 2012