Hypothyroidism is also known as an underactive thyroid gland; this means that the body produces a low level of thyroxine. Thyroxine is a hormone which helps to control the speed of the body’s metabolism; a lack of thyroxine causes the processes to be slower than usual. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, a lack of energy, dry skin, limp hair, constipation and feeling the cold.
Some people are born with an underactive thyroid gland (this is known as congenital hypothyroidism), while others experience it as a result of a different type of birth defect or inherited condition; people with Down’s syndrome, for example often have hypothyroidism and some babies develop it as a result of an infection which affects their mother during pregnancy. The condition can also develop later in life and most cases are caused by an autoimmune disease called autoimmune thyroiditis; this occurs when the body mistakes the thyroid gland for a harmful structure and starts to attack it with antibodies. Hypothyroidism is treated using a form of medication known as levothyroxine.
For more information about this condition, visit our guide to hypothyroidism.
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