Hypothyroidism Risk Factors – Are You At Risk?

There are several known hypothyroidism risk factors.  However, whilst having, or being one of these increases your risk of developing hypothyroidism, it should be noted that anyone can develop this condition given the right circumstances.  Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland becomes less active and does not produce enough thyroid hormones.  Optimal levels of thyroid hormones are essential for both a healthy metabolism and to maintain a number of other vital processes.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism usually develop slowly and may go unnoticed for some considerable time.  They’re also common to other disorders ie menopause, which makes diagnosing hypothyroidism more difficult.  However, the longer the condition is left untreated, the more chance there is of serious health complications developing (fertility issues, cardiac diseases, high level of cholesterol, mental issues etc.)

Some basic symptoms of hypothyroidism are:

  • dry skin,
  • unexplained depression,
  • brittle thick nails,
  • thickening of the skin,
  • lack of sweating,
  • hair fall,
  • puffiness and swelling,
  • yellow tinge to your skin etc.

Interesting Questions about Thyroid:

What are Autoimmune Thyroid Diseases?

The leading cause of hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Graves’ Disease.

The leading cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Autoimmune diseases in general

Autoimmune diseases tend to run in families. In other words, there is a strong genetic predisposition to develop one or more autoimmune diseases. Females are affected five times more than men by autoimmune disease. Patients with other autoimmune diseases are more likely to develop autoimmune thyroid diseases.

Researchers are trying to unlock the mysteries of autoimmune diseases, but there are still many unanswered questions. Basically an autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system produces antibodies that attack healthy tissues. In Graves’ disease, the immune system produces anti-thyroid antibodies that cause the thyroid gland to make too much thyroid hormone. In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, antithyroid antibodies damage the thyroid gland and prevent it from producing enough thyroid hormone.

Autoimmune diseases associated with a higher than normal rate of thyroid autoimmune diseases

  • vitiligo (patchy loss of skin coloration)
  • alopecia areata (sudden, circular hair loss)
  • premature gray hair
  • pernicious anemia (inability to absorb B12)
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • myasthenia gravis (episodic muscle weakness that can affect vision, speech, swallowing, and breathing )
  • Lupus erythematosus ( connective tissue disorder)
  • insulin-dependent diabetes
  • Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency)
  • premature ovarian failure

Tests for antibodies present in autoimmune thyroid disease

  • TPOab (thyroperoxidase antibodies)
  • TGab (thyroglobulin antibodies)

One of these two types of antibodies is found in nearly all patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and in approximately 50% of patients with Graves’ disease.

  • TRab (thyrotropin receptor antibodies; also called thyroid stimulating immunoglobulins or thyroid stimulating antibodies.)
What is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism causes the body to slow down. It occurs when there is too little thyroid hormone in the blood (“hypo” means “not enough”). Hypothyroidism affects more than 5 million people, many of whom don’t know they have the disease. Women are more likely than men to have hypothyroidism.

Also, one out of every 4,000 infants is born with the condition. If the problem is not corrected, the child will become mentally and physically retarded. Therefore, all newborns in the United States are tested for the disease.

Symptoms in adults include:

  • feeling slow or tired
  • feeling cold
  • drowsy during the day, even after sleeping all night
  • slow heart rate
  • poor memory
  • difficulty concentrating
  • muscle cramps
  • weight gain
  • husky voice
  • thinning hair
  • dry and coarse skin
  • feeling depressed
  • heavy menstrual flow
  • milky discharge from the breasts
  • infertility
  • goiter

Many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism can occur normally with aging, so if you have one or two of them, there is probably no reason to worry. However, if you are concerned about any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor.

What Causes Hypothyroidism?

There are several different causes of hypothyroidism:

  • An inflammation of the thyroid gland called thyroiditis can lower the amount of hormones produced. The number one cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a painless disease of the immune system that runs in families. Another form of thyroiditis, postpartum thyroiditis, occurs in 5%-9% of women soon after giving birth and is usually a temporary condition.
  • Thyroid surgery or radioactive iodine treatment may cause hypothyroidism.
  • One out of every 4,000 infants is born without a working thyroid gland. If the problem is not corrected, the child will become mentally and physically retarded.
  • About 100 million people around the world don’t get enough iodine in their diets. Iodine is a chemical which the thyroid uses to produce its hormones. The problem has been solved in the United States and most developed countries by adding iodine to salt.
  • Some other possible causes of hypothyroidism are radiation therapy to the head and neck, birth defects, certain drugs, problems with the pituitary gland, and a gradual wearing out of the thyroid gland.

Have more questions? Need more answers? Check our Full Thyroid FAQ

Primary Hypothyroidism Risk Factors

The most common hypothyroidism risk factors are gender and age.  Women are 8 to 10 times more likely to develop it than men – quoted rates are one in 50 women as opposed to one in a thousand men.  Women over the age of 50 are also more likely to develop it than younger women, which also coincides with the onset of menopause and the confusion that can arise of the similarity of symptoms between the two.  Pregnant women, and women who have recently had a child, are also more prone to developing thyroid disorders (ie postpartum thyroiditis) that may eventually develop into hypothyroidism, particularly if left untreated.

Other known hypothyroidism risk factors include 

  • genetics and a family history of thyroid problems
  • having an autoimmune disorder (diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus)
  • radiation treatment
  • radiation exposure on the upper torso
  • anti-thyroid and other medications
  • thyroid surgery

Other things like smoking, living in a country that is known to be iodine deficient, poor diet and so on can all be contributing factors that affect the health of your thyroid gland generally.  If you suspect you may have symptoms of hypothyroidism you should seek medical advice.

Donna Morgan

Donna Morgan

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