Hypothyroidism and Weight Management

People who suffer from hypothyroidism may experience weight gain, and may find losing that weight more difficult than those with normal thyroid levels.
Hypothyroidism and Weight Management
Thyroid hormone plays a role in the regulation of the body's metabolism. When the body's ability to produce the hormone is limited, there is a reduction in metabolism and subsequent weight gain can occur. Fluid retention is also linked with the development of hypothyroidism and can contribute to added weight. In addition to a reduced metabolism, weight gain prior to the diagnosis can be linked to a variety of factors, including increases in food intake, decreases in physical activity as the result of fatigue, and the aging process.

Hypothyroidism is a fairly uncommon condition, occurring in approximately 3.7% of the U.S. population.1 It is found more frequently in women and is diagnosed more often in both genders with advancing age. 2

Although some individuals gain a significant amount of weight, the average weight gain is around 5-10 pounds.3 Generally, the more severe the hypothyroidism, the greater the amount of weight gained.

Hypothyroidism Diagnosis and Treatment
Hypothyroidism is diagnosed through a simple thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) blood test to verify the thyroid gland's condition. If TSH is elevated, it usually means that there is not enough thyroid hormone in the blood. The American Thyroid Association guidelines recommend that all adults have a TSH test done every five years beginning at age 35.4

Hypothyroidism is treated by replacing the missing thyroid hormone on a daily basis with the drug levothyroxine (i.e. brand name – Synthroid™). Life-long therapy is needed, however, as relapses will occur if therapy is stopped. Periodic adjustments in the amounts of medication used are often needed to keep thyroid function at normal levels.

Hypothyroidism and Weight Management
Once thyroid function is restored, the ability to lose weight is the same as someone without the condition. However, it is not uncommon for those being treated for hypothyroidism to lose weight at a slightly slower rate. Adjusting weight-loss expectations to take this into account is an often recommended strategy for those working to lose the weight gained prior to the diagnosis of hypothyroidism.

Weight Watchers Approach:

Following a lifestyle modification program, which is integral to the Weight Watchers approach, may help those being treated for hypothyroidism to successfully lose weight. Within the Weight Watchers Tools For Living, Reframing may also be a helpful tool to come to terms with the realities of a potentially slower weight loss that may occur with this condition.


This content is reviewed regularly. Last updated November 5, 2011.

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RELATED INFORMATION

Other Science Library topics:

Achieving a Sustainable Weight Loss

Metabolism


FOOTNOTES

1 Aoki Y, Belin RM, Clickner R, Jeffries R, Phillips L, Mahaffey KR. TSH and total T4 in the United States population and their association with participant characteristics: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 1999-2002). Dec 2007;17(12):1211-23.

2 Roberts CG, Ladenson PW. Hypothyroidism. Lancet. 2004 Mar 6;363(9411):793-803.

3 American Thyroid Association, Thyroid and Weight

4 Ladenson PW, Singer PA, Ain KB, Bagchi N, Bigos ST, Levy EG, Smith SA, Daniels GH, Cohen HD. American Thyroid Association guidelines for detection of thyroid dysfunction. Arch Intern Med. 2000 Jun 12;160(11):1573-5.

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