Conditions & Treatments

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is the condition in which the thyroid is underactive (i.e., it is producing an insufficient amount of thyroid hormones).

Hypothyroidism

What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is the condition in which the thyroid is underactive (for example, it is producing an insufficient amount of thyroid hormones).

Illustration of the thyroid glad and its location
Thyroid Gland - Click to Enlarge

Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder. Severe hypothyroidism can lead to a rare condition called myxedema, characterized by dry, thickened skin, coarse facial features, confusion, decreased body temperature, decreased heart rate, and, possibly, coma.

What causes hypothyroidism?

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is the body's immune reaction to itself, producing antibodies against the thyroid gland. One such autoimmune disorder is called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid gland. Other causes include treatment of hyperthyroidism such as radioactive iodine treatment or surgery.

What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Symptoms of hypothyroidism are usually very subtle and gradual and may be mistaken for symptoms of depression. The following are the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Dull facial expressions

  • Fatigue

  • Cold intolerance

  • Hoarse voice

  • Slow speech

  • Droopy eyelids

  • Puffy and swollen face

  • Weight gain

  • Constipation

  • Sparse, coarse, and dry hair

  • Coarse, dry, and thickened skin

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (hand tingling or pain)

  • Slow pulse

  • Muscle cramps

  • Sides of eyebrows thin or fall out

  • Confusion

  • Increased or irregular menstrual flow in women

Untreated hypothyroidism may lead to anemia, low body temperature, and heart failure.

The symptoms of hypothyroidism may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis. A condition called secondary hypothyroidism sometimes occurs as a result of a failing pituitary gland. When the pituitary gland fails, it no longer stimulates the thyroid to produce thyroid hormones.

How is hypothyroidism diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and medical examination, diagnostic procedures for hypothyroidism may include blood tests to measure levels of thyroid hormones and the thyroid-stimulating hormones produced by the pituitary gland.

How is hypothyroidism treated?

The goal of treatment is to restore the circulating thyroid hormone level back to normal.

Treatment may include prescription of thyroid hormones to replace the deficient hormones. Dosage of thyroid hormone may need to be increased or decreased over the years. Routine testing of the thyroid hormone levels in the blood is necessary to ensure that the patient is taking the correct dose of thyroid hormone replacement. A patient usually takes thyroid hormones for the rest of his or her life.

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Cancer Center

  • Thyroid Tumors
    Both benign and malignant thyroid tumors are treated in the Center for Endocrine Tumors, one of the largest programs of its kind in the country.
Imaging

  • Pediatric Imaging
    The Pediatric Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging specializes in ensuring the safety and comfort of child patients while providing the latest technology and the expertise of specialized pediatric radiologists.
MassGeneral Hospital for Children

  • Pediatric Thyroid Surgery Program
    The Pediatric Thyroid Surgery Program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) is a multidisciplinary program devoted to the care of infants, children and adolescents with thyroid conditions.
  • Pediatric Endocrine Program and Diabetes Center
    The Pediatric Endocrinology Program and Diabetes Center at MassGeneral Hospital for Children is an international referral center for the management of pediatric diabetes and endocrine disorders in children and adolescents.
Endocrine Unit

  • Thyroid Associates
    Thyroid Associates at Massachusetts General Hospital provides expert, comprehensive and efficient care for patients with thyroid disorders such as hyperthyroidism, thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer.
General and Gastrointestinal Surgery

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