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ICD-10 E039
ICD-9 244.9
OMIM [1]
DiseasesDB 6558
MedlinePlus [2]
eMedicine med/1145
MeSH {{{MeshNumber}}}

Hypothyroidism is the disease state in humans and animals caused by insufficient production of thyroid hormone by the thyroid gland.


There are several distinct causes for chronic hypothyroidism. Historically, and still in many developing countries, iodine deficiency is the most common cause of hypothyroidism worldwide. In present day developed countries, however, hypothyroidism is mostly caused by Hashimoto's thyroiditis, or by a lack of the thyroid gland or a deficiency of hormones from either the hypothalamus or the pituitary.

Hypothyroidism can result from postpartum thyroiditis, a condition that affects about 5% of all women within a year after giving birth. The first phase is typically hyperthyroidism. Then, the thyroid either returns to normal or a woman develops hypothyroidism. Of those women who experience hypothyroidism associated with postpartum thyroiditis, one in five will develop permanent hypothyroidism requiring life-long treatment.

Hypothyroidism can also result from sporadic inheritance, sometimes autosomal recessive.

Hypothyroidism is also a relatively common hormone disease in domestic dogs, with some specific breeds having a definite predisposition.[1]

Temporary hypothyroidism can be due to the Wolff-Chaikoff effect.

Hypothyroidism is often classified by the organ of origin:[2][3]

Type Origin Description
Primary thyroid gland The most common forms include Hashimoto's thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease) and radioiodine therapy for hyperthyroidism.
Secondary pituitary gland Occurs if the pituitary gland does not create enough thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to induce the thyroid gland to create a sufficient quantity of thyroxine. Although not every case of secondary hypothyroidism has a clear-cut cause, it is usually caused when the pituitary is damaged by a tumor, radiation, or surgery so that it is no longer able to instruct the thyroid to make enough hormone[4]
Tertiary hypothalamus Results when the hypothalamus fails to produce sufficient TRH. Hence may also be termed hypothalamic-pituitary-axis hypothyroidism

General psychological associations

Hypothyroidism can be caused by lithium-based mood stabilizers, usually used to treat bipolar disorder (previously known as manic depression).

In addition, patients with hypothyroidism and psychiatric symptoms may be diagnosed with:[5]


The ability of Hypothyroidism to mimic a number of medical conditions originates in the vast functions of the thyroid hormones, which are reduced or absent in this case. The functions of thyroid hormones include modulation of carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, vitamin utilization, mitochondrial function, digestive process, muscle and nerve activity, blood flow, oxygen utilization, hormone secretion and sexual and reproductive health[6] to mention a few. Thus, when the thyroid hormone content gets out of balance, systems covering the whole body are affected. This is why hypothyroidism can look like other diseases. Conversely, sometimes other conditions can be mistaken for hypothyroidism.


In adults, hypothyroidism is associated with the following symptoms:[4][7]

Early symptoms

  • Poor muscle tone (muscle hypotonia)
  • Fatigue
  • Cold intolerance, increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle cramps and joint pain
  • Thin, brittle fingernails
  • Thin, brittle hair
  • Paleness
  • Dry, itchy skin

Late symptoms

  • Slowed speech and a hoarse, breaking voice. Deepening of the voice can also be noticed.
  • Dry puffy skin, especially on the face
  • Thinning of the outer third of the eyebrows
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles
  • Low basal body temperature

Less common symptoms

  • Heat intolerance, increased sensitivity to heat
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired cognitive function (brain fog) and inattentiveness
  • Urticaria (hives)
  • Migraine headache
  • A slow heart rate with ECG changes including low voltage signals. Diminished cardiac output and decreased contractility.
  • Reactive (or post-prandial) hypoglycemia[8]
  • Pericardial effusions may occur.
  • Sluggish reflexes
  • hair loss
  • Anemia caused by impaired hemoglobin synthesis (decreased EPO levels), impaired intestinal iron and folate absorption or B12 deficiency from pernicious anemia
  • anxiety/panic attacks
  • difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath with a shallow and slow respiratory pattern.
  • Impaired ventilatory responses to hypercapnia and hypoxia.
  • Increased need for sleep
  • Osteopenia or Osteoporosis
  • Irritability and mood instability
  • Yellowing of the skin due to impaired conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A
  • Impaired renal function with decreased GFR.
  • Thin, fragile or absent cuticles
  • Elevated serum cholesterol
  • Acute psychosis (myxedema madness) is a rare presentation of hypothyroidism
  • Decreased libido
  • Decreased sense of taste and smell (late, less common symptoms)
  • Puffy face, hands and feet (late, less common symptoms)
  • Depression


Hypothyroidism in pediatric patients can cause the following additional symptoms:


The severity of hypothyroidism varies widely. Some have few overt symptoms, others with moderate symptoms can be mistaken for having other diseases and states. Advanced hypothyroidism may cause severe complications including cardiovasular and psychiatric myxedema.

Diagnostic testing

To diagnose primary hypothyroidism, many doctors simply measure the amount of Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) being produced by the pituitary gland. High levels of TSH indicate that the thyroid is not producing sufficient levels of Thyroid hormone (mainly as thyroxine (T4) and smaller amounts of triiodothyronine (fT3)). However, measuring just TSH fails to diagnose secondary and tertiary forms of hypothyroidism, thus leading to the following suggested blood testing if the TSH is normal and hypothyroidism is still suspected:

  • free triiodothyronine (fT3)
  • free levothyroxine (fT4)
  • total T3
  • total T4
  • 24 hour urine free T3 [9]

Additionally, the following measurements may be needed:

  • antithyroid antibodies - for evidence of autoimmune diseases that may be damaging the thyroid gland
  • serum cholesterol - which may be elevated in hypothyroidism
  • prolactin - as a widely available test of pituitary function
  • testing for anemia, including ferritin

Barnes Basal Temperature Test

The Barnes Basal Temperature Test was developed by the late Dr. Broda O. Barnes M.D. Ph.D. and first published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in August of 1942. This test involves placing a thermometer in the armpit for 10 minutes immediately upon waking, then taking the reading. (menstruating women must do the test on day 2-4 of their cycle)

According to Dr. Barnes, a reading below 36.6C (97.8F) is highly indicative of hypothyroidism, especially if accompanied by symptoms. The test was never widely adopted in the medical community, though a minority of doctors continue to employ it and attest to its effectiveness. [10] [11]


Main article: Thyroid hormone#Medical use of thyroid hormones

Both synthetic and animal-derived thyroid tablets are available and can be prescribed for patients in need of additional thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is taken daily, and doctors can monitor blood levels to help assure proper dosaging. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommends the use of levothyroxine (T4) as thyroid replacement. In general, desiccated thyroid hormone, combinations of thyroid hormone, or triiodothyronine should not be used for replacement therapy.[12]

The American Thyroid Association cautions against taking herbal remedies, and warns that taking too much iodine can actually worsen hypothyroidism.[4]

Subclinical hypothyroidism

A meta-analysis by the Cochrane Collaboration found no benefit of thyroid hormone replacement except "some parameters of lipid profiles and left ventricular function".[13]

See also


  1. Brooks W. Hypothyroidism in Dogs. The Pet Health Library. URL accessed on 2008-02-28.
  2. Simon H. Hypothyroidism. University of Maryland Medical Center. URL accessed on 2008-02-28.
  3. Department of Pathology. Pituitary Gland -- Diseases/Syndromes. Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). URL accessed on 2008-02-28.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 American Thyroid Association (ATA) (2003). Hypothyroidism Booklet (PDF), 6.
  5. Heinrich TW, Grahm G (2003). Hypothyroidism Presenting as Psychosis: Myxedema Madness Revisited 5 (6): 260-266.
  6. Comprehensive Thyroid Assessment. Geneva Diagnostics. URL accessed on 2007-05-21.
  7. MedlinePlus Encyclopedia 000367 - see list of Symptoms
  8. Hofeldt FD, Dippe S, Forsham PH (1972). Diagnosis and classification of reactive hypoglycemia based on hormonal changes in response to oral and intravenous glucose administration. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 25 (11): 1193–201.
  9. Baisier W. Hertoghe J. Eeckhaut W. Thyroid insufficiency. Is TSH the only diagnostic tool? J Nutr Environ ed. 2000;10:105-113. "Thyroid insufficiency. Is TSH the only diagnostic tool?"
  10. "Broda O. Barnes MD, Research Foundation, Inc."
  11. " Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness"
  12. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (November/Decemcer 2002). Medical Guidelines For Clinical Practice For The Evaluation And Treatment Of Hyperthyroidism And Hypothyroidism. Endocrine Practice 8 (6): 457-469.
  13. Villar H, Saconato H, Valente O, Atallah A (2007). Thyroid hormone replacement for subclinical hypothyroidism. Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (3): CD003419.

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