Most adults rarely remember that they even have a thyroid gland until something goes wrong. But the truth is that the bow tie-shaped organ positioned in the front of our necks plays an important part in our growth and development. The thyroid gland is one of four major organs that secrete hormones to manage several biological processes and systems in the human body which contribute to your weight, metabolism, and mood. So when it starts to malfunction, it can have a serious negative effect on our bodies that can be difficult to correct without treatment.
However, for a long time, thyroid issues were commonly seen as a condition that was only exclusive to women. Of course, that isn’t the case since every gender in the human population has a thyroid gland and is susceptible to possible thyroid dysfunction, especially in men. But due to the fact that many symptoms associated with thyroid dysfunction are similar to other common male health complications, physicians tend to overlook the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction in men and attribute their issues to other medical conditions. As a result, the thyroid disorders that men experience, such as hypothyroidism, are often misdiagnosed, leaving men to struggle with health issues without ever realizing the cause.
Nowadays, more cases of male hypothyroidism are on the rise as several generations of the male population have grown older and begun to experience the natural breakdown of their bodies, making male hypothyroidism a serious problem for men over the age of 40. So, if you’re an aging man who has begun to experience unexplained health issues and is worried that your body may be breaking down prematurely, it may be time to learn more about hypothyroidism and ask your physician to evaluate your thyroid function.
What Is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a form of thyroid disease that occurs when the thyroid gland is unable to make enough thyroid hormone to maintain the body’s normal biological processes. According to the National Library of Medicine (NIH), hypothyroidism is a common hormone condition that affects up to 5% of the American population, but it may be more, given that another estimated 5% are still undiagnosed. Based on research, women are typically eight times more likely to develop hypothyroidism than men; however, studies show that the hormone imbalance has gradually become a serious issue for males, as the thyroid disorder currently affects 3 to 16% of men in the US. And as the years continue to pass, that number is projected to steadily increase as more men continue to age.
What Causes Hypothyroidism in Males?
In most cases found in the United States, hypothyroidism is typically caused by an autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or more commonly referred to as Hashimoto’s disease. Also known as lymphocytic thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s disease is typically a hereditary condition that causes the immune system to produce cells that eventually attack the thyroid gland and impairs its ability to function and produce hormones. However, other pre-existing medical conditions or complications can also cause hypothyroidism, including:
- Thyroid cancer
- Iodine deficiency
- Certain medications such as lithium
- Thyroid inflammation (also known as thyroiditis)
- Radiation or surgery focused on the thyroid or other parts of the neck
How Does Hypothyroidism Develop?
For this question, it’s best that we start with what the thyroid does inside the body and work our way back to the answer. The thyroid gland’s primary function is to regulate the body’s metabolism, which your body uses to convert food into energy and fuel muscle growth and proper weight distribution. It achieves this by releasing two hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which travel throughout the body and instruct the cells on how much energy to use for certain functions and cellular processes. Typically, when the thyroid works at optimal efficiency, these hormones are constantly produced and released to replace the ones previously used, which keeps your metabolism working constantly and the rest of your body maintained.
However, the thyroid gland doesn’t handle this process on its own. The release of thyroid hormones secreted in the bloodstream is primarily controlled by the pituitary gland, which is also responsible for stimulating thyroid hormone production. When the pituitary gland notices that the body has small or excessive amounts of thyroid hormone, it releases thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH), sending them to the thyroid gland to balance the hormone levels. This is where thyroid dysfunctions like hypothyroidism can significantly affect hormone production and mess everything up.
In many cases, hypothyroidism develops when the pituitary gland’s function begins to fail, making it difficult to release TSH and keep the thyroid levels balanced. During these instances, the thyroid gland may interpret the lack of TSH as a sign that it doesn’t need to produce more thyroid hormone, which can lead to low thyroid levels in men. Without the pituitary gland to stimulate the release of more thyroid hormone to activate the thyroid, the lack of thyroid activity can lead to hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid disease.
What Are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Men?
Typically, both men and women who struggle with hypothyroidism will experience the same symptoms, such as depression, brain fog, and constant fatigue. However, men who struggle with hypothyroidism will also exhibit symptoms unique to their gender, such as:
Researchers have found that low thyroid levels can lead to various types of sexual dysfunction that can negatively affect your sexual desire and performance during intercourse, which can lead to low sex drive and reduced sexual activity. Studies reveal that over 64% of men with hypothyroidism struggle with low libido and erectile dysfunction, as well as premature and delayed ejaculation. According to one study, hyperthyroidism can also affect semen quality and lead to low sperm count and motility, increasing the risk of infertility in men.
In addition to thyroid hormones, testosterone is another hormone responsible for many cellular processes and physical characteristics of the male anatomy. As an androgen hormone, testosterone helps to regulate several secondary male characteristics, such as sex drive, muscle development, and reproductive function. So just like your thyroid hormone, your testosterone levels must remain balanced to help your body maintain those functions and characteristics.
Unfortunately, hypothyroidism can lower levels of free testosterone, which the body uses to enable the cells needed to regulate a man’s secondary sexual characteristics. The thyroid disorder can also lower levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), the protein that attaches to the majority of your testosterone and helps the hormone travel in the bloodstream to dozens of organs and tissues throughout the body. A lack of SHBG can reduce testosterone activity and, therefore, lower your total testosterone levels. As a result, hypothyroidism can negatively affect your testosterone production and increases your chances of experiencing the symptoms of low testosterone.
Aside from dihydrotestosterone (DHT), our hair follicles are regulated by the thyroid hormone. Research even suggests that hair follicles are usually more sensitive to thyroid complications than other parts of the body due to their short lifespan and constant turnover rate. As a result of this relationship, low thyroid levels can cause decreased follicle growth and regeneration, which can eventually lead to hair loss. In fact, studies reveal that 25 to 30% of patients who experienced hair loss were shown to have low thyroid hormone levels.
Hypothyroidism is also associated with other hair alterations, such as coarse or brittle hair, that can make it more difficult for hair to grow normally. In a 1997 study, researchers found that hypothyroidism was the leading cause of coarseThyroid hormone signaling controls hair follicle stem cell function – PMC hair growth in up to 10% of patients with low thyroid levels.
In addition to hair follicles, skin cells are also sensitive to hormone signals from the thyroid gland. When thyroid hormone levels are low, they can affect the skin’s normal cycle of growth, which can make it difficult for new skin cells to emerge. In turn, the old layers of dead skin will remain and continue to accumulate damage, causing it to become flaky and dry. Typically, dry skin is a common symptom of autoimmune diseases, and since hypothyroidism can also be caused by these diseases, dry skin is usually one of the most common symptoms of the condition. Studies reveal that over 70% of patients with hypothyroidism normally report issues with dry skin. In some cases, hypothyroidism can even lead to myxedema, a severe condition that causes redness and swelling of the skin.
Hypothyroidism is closely linked to muscle weakness and cramps in men. Studies reveal that low levels of thyroid hormone can negatively affect the metabolic processes needed for muscle growth and lead to catabolism, a process where the body breaks down the proteins of certain tissues, such as muscles, to use as energy. Naturally, during this breakdown of muscle tissue, your muscle strength will decrease, causing you to feel weaker as you engage in normal activity.
In many cases, adults with hypothyroidism are more likely to experience muscle weakness than relatively healthy people. In fact, research reveals that 20% of patients who suffer from hypothyroidism typically experience muscle weakness, and an additional 35% usually experience muscle cramps, making debilitating muscle-related symptoms a common condition of hypothyroidism.
Because low thyroid hormone levels can also have an effect on your metabolism, weight gain is also a common symptom of hypothyroidism. Low thyroid hormone levels can lead to decreased metabolic activity, which causes the body to store more calories instead of using them for energy and growth. As a result, your calories accumulate into fat, which leads to increased weight gain. Studies reveal that most adults with hypothyroidism typically experience an increase in their weight ranging between 5–10 lbs, which is why physicians that focus on treating thyroid disease will also prescribe specific medications that can help their patients achieve weight loss during treatment.
In addition to the most common symptoms explained above, hypothyroidism can also cause other symptoms such as:
Since low thyroid levels can slow down your metabolism, thyroid hormone deficiency can also have an effect on your energy levels, causing you to feel constantly fatigued even after a good night’s rest.
Due to its effects on your metabolism, hypothyroidism can also lead to digestive issues, which may lead to feelings of constipation. In fact, studies show that 17% of hypothyroidism patients usually experience constipation symptoms.
Chills or High Sensitivity to Cold
The thyroid gland helps to regulate your body temperature, so when your metabolism decreases, it can affect the gland’s ability to maintain your normal temperature sensitivity. As a result, people with hypothyroidism will usually feel colder than healthy adults in the same temperatures. In fact, research has found that most people that suffer from hypothyroidism are usually more sensitive to cold environments.
Hypothyroidism has also been closely associated with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Based on previous studies, 69% of adults with hypothyroidism typically exhibit signs of depression. The same research also revealed that people with low thyroid levels also had trouble concentrating and issues with memory loss.
How Is Hypothyroidism Diagnosed in Men?
Since each person may experience the symptoms of hypothyroidism a bit differently and most of these symptoms are commonly mistaken for other medical issues, a physician will usually conduct several kinds of tests to diagnose hypothyroidism. In most cases, this is usually achieved through a blood test or an ultrasound of your thyroid.
Typically, the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) controls how much triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) your thyroid produces. However, T4 is very important to your thyroid hormone production, as it is usually converted into T3, the active hormone that supports your metabolism and other biological functions.
With blood testing, your physician will perform a series of tests to accurately measure the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in your body. If your T4 levels are low, the pituitary gland will typically release more TSH to boost your T4 levels, which can lead to high TSH levels. If your TSH levels are high and T4 levels are still low, it’s usually an indication of hypothyroidism. Depending on the nature of your case, your physician may also measure your T3 levels for accuracy.
However, your physician may perform a second blood test to confirm the results. If the second test comes back with high TSH levels, but T-4 and T-3 are within normal parameters, you may be diagnosed with subclinical hypothyroidism.
Your physician may also rely on a thyroid ultrasound to get an in-depth picture of your thyroid gland. The ultrasound, which produces pictures of your insides using sound waves to create an image, will usually look for growths or nodules on or near your thyroid during the imaging exam.
If your results look normal, your physician may perform other tests, such as a blood test, to assess your thyroid gland’s performance and level of activity.
However, if your results are abnormal, your physician may recommend focusing on the cause of the abnormality before suggesting other treatments to restore your thyroid hormone activity. In most cases, abnormal results are usually due to various thyroid complications such as:
- Thyroid nodules
- Inflammation of thyroid (Thyroiditis)
- Thyroid cancer
Surgeons will utilize the thyroid ultrasound to help view these tumors or growths as they work to remove them during surgery. Once they’re removed, your physician will work to provide the necessary treatments needed to restore your thyroid hormone production.
What Is the Best Treatment for Hyperthyroidism?
Typically, thyroid hormone replacement is the most effective treatment for hypothyroidism. This form of therapy utilizes natural or synthetic versions of the natural thyroid hormones that can work in the same manner as the T3 and T4 hormones your body produces. Usually, Levothyroxine, a synthetically produced version of the T4 hormone, is most commonly used for thyroid replacement therapy. In some cases, physicians may prescribe natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) medication derived from animal glands in place of levothyroxine since they’re very similar to the human thyroid and may work more effectively as a long-term treatment.
What Are the Complications of Hypothyroidism?
If hypothyroidism is left untreated, the condition can have a serious negative effect on your cardiovascular, nervous, and reproductive systems. As a result, adults with hypothyroidism may experience several serious health complications such as:
- Irregular heart rate
- Blood clots
- Heart failure
- Eye disease
- Reduced kidney function
- Peripheral neuropathy
Women who suffer from hypothyroidism may also experience complications during pregnancy. Low thyroid levels can increase the risk of a miscarriage and may lead to other complications such as preeclampsia or premature birth.
Make sure to discuss the potential complications of hypothyroidism with your healthcare provider before starting any treatments. You should also disclose your full medical history, including any pre-existing health issues and new medical changes, so they can determine whether certain treatments may increase the risk of any complications related to your thyroid issues. They can figure out the best approach to treat your hypothyroidism and suggest other possibilities that can help you address those complications without causing further harm to your health.
At Renew Vitality, we specialize in thyroid hormone replacement therapy for adults struggling with hypothyroidism. Our staff of hormone specialists can provide several types of thyroid hormone medications, such as Levothyroxine and natural thyroid extract, to help provide the necessary hormones that your thyroid can no longer produce. With our thyroid hormone treatments, we can help you to restore your thyroid hormone levels and regain your body’s normal biological function. Contact us at 1-800-785-3945 to schedule an initial consultation with one of our physicians at any of our hormone replacement clinics in the United States to find out more about how our thyroid hormone replacement treatment options can help treat your hypothyroidism.