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Symptom checker: dandruff or hypothyroidism?

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This is article is written with Ilyse Lefkowicz, M.D. - Head & Shoulders dermatologist.Being a sufferer of scalp issues, she understands the importance of a scalp care system that delivers in technology and beauty benefits. Dr. Lefkowicz is a Board-Certified dermatologist specializing in general and cosmetic dermatology.

Hypothyroidism is known to mimic other conditions due to its many symptoms. Make sure youre not confusing it with dandruff with our guide.

Dandruff is not a particularly troubling condition, despite the discomfort it can cause.Treating it is as simple as using a good dandruff shampoo.

Hypothyroidism on the other hand, can be far more serious. Unfortunately, hypothyroidism comes with many possible symptoms, some of which can even mimic dandruff.

So, whats the difference?

What is dandruff?

Dandruff is caused by the malassezia fungus that resides on your scalp. This yeast-like fungus is usually harmless it feeds off the natural oils on your scalp, leaving oleic acid as a byproduct.

Unfortunately, some people are sensitive to oleic acid, causing the symptoms we associate with dandruff:

  • Itchiness
  • White flakes in the hair
  • Dry scalp skin
  • A red, irritated scalp
  • Hair loss, in extreme cases.

Dealing with the problem means using a good dandruff shampoo exclusively for two weeks. After that, its a good idea to continue using the dandruff shampoo as a maintenance routine, since dandruff is a chronic condition, and symptoms will return if not treated.

What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a different story entirely. This occurs when the thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone. Most commonly, this is the result of an autoimmune disorder.

Diagnosing hypothyroidism can be difficult, thanks to the many symptoms associated with it:

  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Dry hair and hair loss
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Swelling of the thyroid gland
  • Unexplained weight gain or difficulty in losing weight

The key to telling the difference between dandruff and hypothyroidism rests in two areas: spotting other symptoms, and location.

First off, dandruff is confined to the scalp, while the dry skin that marks hypothyroidism can occur anywhere on the body.

Secondly, hypothyroidism is associated with a number of other symptoms that are outside the scope of dandruff. If you experience any other symptoms of hypothyroidism alongside symptoms of dandruff, you should immediately speak to your doctor.

Treating hypothyroidism

Luckily, treating hypothyroidism is as simple as a prescription from your doctor. It will also require ongoing blood tests in order to ensure that your body is getting the right amount of thyroid hormone.

One of the possible complications that can arise when treating hypothyroidism concerns other medication. It possible for supplements and other medications to interfere with the bodys ability to absorb the thyroid medication. For this reason, its very important that you give your doctor a complete list of any medications you might be taking.

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