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Secondary Hypothyroidism

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The causes, symptoms and treatments of secondary hypothyroidism, along with important guidelines that must be followed when one is taking medication for hypothyroidism.

The thyroid gland is a vital organ that ensures the proper functioning of the body's endocrine system.

Its located right below the voice box in the front of the neck and is responsible for releasing hormones that control the body's metabolism.

If the thyroid is not functioning properly, health problems can ensue such as fatigue, weight gain, and a decreased ability to tolerate cold.

A person's thyroid can begin to malfunction due to defects in the thyroid gland, and depending on the imbalance of hormones that occur, can cause either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is basically a speeding up of the metabolism, hypothyroidism is a slowing down of metabolism.

Causes of Secondary Hypothyroidism

A major cause of hypothyroidism is known as autoimmune thyroid disorder.

This occurs when a person's immune system malfunctions and begins to attack the thyroid gland. This is sometimes referred to as Hashimoto's thyroiditis and can be present along with other autoimmune disorders such as Fibromyalgia. Due to these complicating factors, it can become difficult to diagnose hypothyroid disorders.

When the body's immune system attacks the thyroid gland, this can lead to chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland, which in turn leads to the beginning of thyroid disorder symptoms.

In a lot of cases, autoimmune thyroid disorder is hereditary and occurs most often in women between the ages of 40 and 60. Family history becomes crucial to the diagnosis of thyroid disorder in these cases. It is imperative that the patient inform their physician of any family history of autoimmune diseases or thyroid disorders while they are in a consultation.

Secondary hypothyroidism is caused by a failure in the hypothalamus, or failure of the pituitary gland to release thyroid stimulating hormone.

Hypothyroidism is usually caused by the failure of the thyroid gland itself, but when it is caused instead by failure either of the hypothalamus or the pituitary gland, it is then referred to as secondary hypothyroidism.

The symptoms are the same, and the effects it has on health remain the same, it is just that the failure which caused the condition is different.

Risk Factors

  • May be a result of a tumor on or near the hypothalamus gland or the pituitary gland
  • Can also be caused by radiation to the brain, or anywhere near the hypothalamus or pituitary gland
  • Another cause can be extensive blood loss, as in during childbirth, which in turn causes low blood flow and can result in infection of the pituitary gland. This is a condition known as "Sheehan Syndrome"
  • Infection of the pituitary gland
  • More rarely, certain viral illnesses can cause damage to the pituitary gland either through inflammation or iron deposits which are created due to the illness

There are several risk factors for developing hypothyroid disorders such as secondary hypothyroidism, including a person's age (over 50), and being female.

Another cause that occurs less often is having had a past history of either hypothalamus or pituitary gland dysfunction, which can be due to previous radiation therapy received near the area.

Symptoms Of Secondary Hypothyroidism

  • Fatigue or a general listless feeling
  • Unintentional weight gain
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Noticeable thinning and brittleness of fingernails or hair
  • Heavier periods than normal
  • Pain in muscles or joints
  • Weakness and overall tired feeling
  • Depression
  • Unusual dryness or paleness of one's skin
  • Constipation

Symptoms that can occur later if hypothyroidism is left untreated include noticeable puffiness in the extremities or of the face, hoarseness, or a "husky" sound to one's voice, slowing of one's speech, and also a decrease in the abilities to taste and smell.

Hypothyroidism symptoms are such that they should not be ignored, and one should seek medical attention if they notice the appearance of these symptoms.

A full checkup, including complete bloodwork, should be done as soon as possible.

The physician will feel the thyroid to see if there is the presence of swelling and may decide to order an ultrasound of the thyroid as well. Blood work will be used to determine the hormone levels of thyroid hormones to see if they are deficient.

Usually, if thyroid disorder symptoms are present along with other indicators such as underproduction of T3 and T4 hormones, it can usually be diagnosed that one is in a stage of hypothyroidism. These findings are determined by the physician upon examination of the test results.

Treatments For Secondary Hypothyroidism

The thyroid treatment used will be for the purpose of replacing the hormone that is lacking, which was found in the blood test. Most commonly, a thyroid medication called Levothyroxine (Synthroid) is prescribed. Doctors usually prescribe the lowest dose they can, which will relieve the patient's symptoms effectively. The hope is that it will also bring the patients TSH range back to normal levels.

When a patient begins this medication, lifetime use of it is necessary.

Patients are always cautioned to keep taking the medication even when the symptoms have been alleviated or have gone away. Hormone levels will need to be checked frequently when a patient begins to use medication to see that it is effectively controlling the hormone levels.

Once a patient has been taking the medication for a while, a longer time period can elapse before hormone levels are checked again.

When a patient is diagnosed with hypothyroid disorders, they may come across false information about diets that claim to alleviate or cure thyroid disorder symptoms.

There is no diet that can do this, and to follow this false diet advice can potentially be harmful. A patient can easily be led astray by claims that sound too good to be true because they are. Diets that are advertised as "miracle diets" that claim these benefits are false. Exercise is always a good idea, whether one suffers from symptoms of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.

Exercise has positive effects both on the body and mind.

The patient should take the medication prescribed by their physician for the treatment of hypothyroid disorders, and the medication should be taken on an empty stomach. This is the best and most effective way that a patient can manage their thyroid disorder symptoms.

Important Things To Remember While Taking Thyroid Hormone Medication

  • Never stop taking the medication, even if symptoms are improved. Patients must continue taking it as directed.
  • Don't take thyroid medications along with multivitamins, antacids which contain aluminum hydroxide, or fiber supplements, calcium or iron supplements. Take supplements at different times of the day to avoid lessening the effects of the thyroid medication.
  • Certain changes to one's diet can effect how the thyroid medication works, such as eating a lot of soy-containing foods or products, or a high fiber diet.
  • If the brand of thyroid medication is changed for any reason, be sure to let the physician know. The doctor may feel that it is necessary to check the hormone levels more frequently for a while.

When proper treatment is used for thyroid disorder symptoms, a patient will often feel much better and the quality of life is improved.

While it may be tempting to stop taking the medication once one is feeling better, it is very important to follow the physician's instructions carefully and keep taking the medication.


Hypothyroidism, when left unchecked and untreated can lead to a very serious condition known as Myxedema.

This condition can result in a patient exhibiting symptoms of low blood pressure, low blood sugar, decreased rate of breathing, and a body temperature that is below normal. If the patient were to lapse into a Myxedema coma, the result can be death.

Always Check With Your Physician

If you are experiencing any thyroid disorder symptoms, see your physician for a physical check-up and a blood test to determine if a thyroid disorder is present.

It is also extremely important for you to inform your physician if there is a family history of hypothyroid disorders or any autoimmune diseases. The sooner one is diagnosed and treatment is begun, the sooner you will feel better and be on the road to a more normal life again.

There is Hope if You Have Secondary Hypothyroidism

If you have been diagnosed with secondary hypothyroidism, you can still live a normal life. Although diet changes and supplements can help, current medical advice is to continue to take any thyroid medication prescribed by your doctor. If you suspect you have this condition, consult with a health professional right away.

Next Article: Thyroid Health | How to Boost T3 and T4 Levels