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The Relationship Between Hypothyroidism and Weight Loss

written by: Sherry Morris • edited by: dianahardin • updated: 5/27/2011

Losing weight while treating hypothyroidism can be difficult. A sluggish thyroid gland can cause weight gain, fatigue, hair loss and sleep disturbances, along with many other symptoms. Weight loss is possible though, under the right conditions.

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    Hypothyroidism is the opposite of hyperthyroidism. In this case, the thyroid actually makes too little thyroxine, instead of too much. It is an underactivity of the thyroid gland, and when this happens, the ability to convert food into energy plummets. Insulin converts the unused nutrients into body fat. Because of this, weight loss with hypothyroidism can be extremely difficult.

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    Symptoms

    Patients with hypothyroidism usually experience fatigue at the end of the day, but have trouble sleeping. Other symptoms include trembling of the hands, irregular heart beat, heat and cold intolerance, hair loss, nervousness, depression, weight gain, constipation, muscle aches, cramps, irritability and memory loss. Hypothyroidism can also rob patients of their energy and dry out their skin.

    When hypothyroidism is severe, patients can experience muscle weakness, chest pain or shortness of breath.

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    Diagnosis

    Blood tests can confirm a diagnosis of hypothyroidism in one to two days. Levels of thyroid hormones T3 and T4 are measured, and one or both must be low, for diagnosis to be made. A low level of thyroxine and high level TSH (thyroid stimulation hormone) strongly suggests that the thyroid is overproducing hormones on its own, because the pituitary gland produces more TSH in an effort to stimulate the thyroid gland into producing more thyroid hormone.

    An iodine thyroid scan can also be performed. This is a nuclear medicine examination, using a radioactive iodine tracer to see how well the thyroid gland is working. An iodine tablet is taken about 6 hours before the scan.

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    Weight loss

    Hypothyroidism is an inflammation of the thyroid gland, which leaves the cells of the thyroid damaged and unable to produce sufficient hormones. The most common cause is the patient's own immune system. Another cause is surgical removal of a portion or all of the thyroid gland. If the total amount of thyroid producing cells left are not enough, then the patient will develop hypothyroidism. Weight gain in hypothyroidism is due to an accumulation of salt and water. When the condition is treated, you can expect to lose ten percent of your body weight, initially. Many hypothyroid patients struggle to lose any further weight, though. They may be placed on thyroid hormones, and still the weight will not come off, despite normal TSH levels.

    For patients with hypothyroidism to experience weight loss, an the addition of an exercise program to their diet of choice will be essential. Dieting alone will not be enough. Thirty minutes of vigorous aerobic activity 5 times a week, or one hour of regular exercising daily is a typical requirement. Also it is essential to get enough water, usually eight - eight ounce glasses of water per day, plus an additional 8 ounces of water for each 25 pounds you are trying to lose. A good amount of fiber will also be a necessary addition.

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    Conclusion

    There is no way to prevent the onset of hypothyroidism; however, it can be prevented from becoming a serious health issue, by recognizing the symptoms and seeking early diagnosis and treatment.

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