If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism (low level of thyroid hormones), it goes without saying that you have to take medicines regularly to manage the condition. If ignored or left untreated, it can lead to several health complications such as heart disease, infertility, and neurological problems.
Here is a list of common complications of hypothyroidism you should know about.
Goiter: Untreated hypothyroidism can put you at risk of goiter, a condition that causes enlargement of the thyroid gland. Low levels of thyroid hormones send a signal to the pituitary gland, which leads to the production of the thyroid stimulating hormone. As the name implies, this hormone stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones, causing the gland to grow in size. This mechanism is mostly triggered by hypothyroidism caused due to iodine deficiency.
Cardiovascular problems: Not many people know that even the mildest form of hypothyroidism can have a significant impact on the heart health. Low levels of thyroid hormones can increase cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn can put you at risk of heart disease. High levels of cholesterol can cause narrowing and hardening of the blood vessels known as atherosclerosis, thus increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
An underactive thyroid can also cause an excess buildup of fluid in and around the heart (pericardial effusion), which makes it difficult for the heart to pump out blood. A 2007 study published in the journal Circulation revealed that the volume of blood pumped by the heart in every beat was decreased by 30 to 50 percent. Moreover, low levels of T3 hormones can also lead to heart failure.
Kidney disease: Severe hypothyroidism can decrease the blood flow to the kidneys thereby impairing the organ function. This, in turn, can affect your ability to excrete water and absorb sodium from the urine. As a result, it leads to unusually low levels of sodium (sodium deficiency). Moreover, thyroid hormone also has a significant impact on the growth and development of the kidneys.
Neurological complications: Long-term and uncontrolled hypothyroidism can affect the functioning of both the peripheral and central nervous system. An underactive thyroid can cause peripheral neuropathy, damage the peripheral nerves. This can cause symptoms such as numbness and tingling sensation, muscle weakness and pain in the limbs (arms and legs).
According to a research study, around 40% of kids and adolescents with congenital hypothyroidism (suffering from low levels of thyroid hormones since birth) suffer from cerebral dysfunction which impacts gait and motor function.
Infertility: Low levels of the thyroid hormone can impact fertility. In women, hypothyroidism can interfere with ovulation and cause menstrual irregularities which can cause infertility. In men, an underactive thyroid is known to cause abnormal sperm morphology and erectile dysfunction.
Pregnancy complications: Uncontrolled hypothyroidism in pregnant women can not only cause complications in pregnancy and delivery but also impact fetal growth and development. In pregnant women, it also increases the risk of preeclampsia (high blood pressure and its complications during pregnancy), premature delivery, abortion, postpartum depression, and hemorrhages. It also leads to intrauterine fetal death, fetal retardation (physical as well as mental), and fetal congenital abnormalities. This can increase the risk of morbidity and mortality in both mom and babies.
Myxedema: It is a rare but life-threatening condition that is resulted from a long-term and undiagnosed hypothyroidism. It is characterized by intense cold intolerance, lethargy, drowsiness, and unconsciousness. If not treated on time, it can lead to a condition known as myxedema coma. Hence, it is advised to seek urgent medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms.
This is the reason why strict diet restrictions, proper intake of medicines, and regular testing is needed to ensure proper functioning of the thyroid gland.
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