Low Thyroid Symptoms - Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You But You Need to Know
by Dr. William Nelson, NMD
Hypothyroidism is a common health condition affecting millions of women that is frequently overlooked in our health care system. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) estimates that 10% of Americans - more than the number of Americans with diabetes and cancer combined - suffer from thyroid disease. Many of these people are not receiving adequate care for a number of reasons. The AACE estimates that half of the people with thyroid disease are not being diagnosed. For those patients properly diagnosed, the standard conventional treatment is often ineffective. The bottom line is that millions of Americans are hypothyroid, many hypothyroid patients receive inadequate treatment, and millions more are hypothyroid and may never even know.
In order to understand the health effects of low thyroid, it is important to know how the thyroid affects the human body. A healthy thyroid produces hormones that control a person's metabolic rate. In essence, the thyroid acts as the body's gas pedal. An overactive or hyperthyroid causes the body's systems to run too hot and too fast. An underactive or hypothyroid causes the body's systems to run too cold and too slow. The effects of low thyroid and low body temperature can be devastating because for every one degree decrease in body temperature the base metabolic rate decreases by approximately 6%. It is not uncommon for a person to have an average temperature that is two to four degrees below normal, this correlates to a 12%-24% reduction in overall metabolism. No wonder these people feel tired and depressed.
There are many risk factors and symptoms that point the increased possibility of low thyroid. Risk factors include: females, age over 30, a family history of low thyroid or auto immune disease, post-partum depression, infertility, multiple miscarriages, pms, weakness, problems with skin or hair, lethargy, sensation of cold, impaired memory or mood, constipation, weight gain or loss, muscle/joint pain, emotional instability, swelling around eyes, face or legs, nervousness, depression, heart palpitations, fullness in the throat area or difficulty swallowing, and many more.
Fatigue is one of the most common reasons for visits to primary care doctors and successful treatment begins with diagnosis. Therefore, any patient suspecting that they have hypothyroidism should be evaluated by a doctor skilled in this area. In addition to hypothyroid, there are many other reasons for fatigue. These include: poor blood sugar regulation, low adrenal function, anemia, nutritional deficiencies (often B vitamins), heavy metal toxicity, lack of exercise, allergies, inadequate sleep, clinical depression, and chronic infection.
Diagnosing low thyroid can be difficult using the current medical model. Although there are numerous lab values that can be used to evaluate thyroid function, many physicians use only one lab test for diagnosis: Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). Many patients with 8 out of 10 low thyroid symptoms will be told that their thyroid is not the cause of their symptoms because their TSH level is "normal." Doctors using the TSH test as the sole criterion for detecting and treating the low thyroid patient are missing a great opportunity to help more sick people. Recently, the AACE has lowered the acceptable TSH values in order to detect more patients with this condition.
Although TSH is the most common method to diagnose low thyroid, having "normal" TSH levels does not automatically rule out hypothyroidism. In addition to the TSH test, a more complete thyroid panel should also include free T3, free T4, and possibly TPO antibodies, and reverse T3. Although these are the best tests to evaluate thyroid function, these tests are often not performed because they are more expensive than the common tests and may not be covered by your insurance companies. When choosing a doctor to treat your possible thyroid problem, ask your doctor what tests they include in their thyroid panel.
Even with the adjusted lab value and additional thyroid tests, there are problems with this evaluation model. Lab values are just one factor to consider when evaluating the patient's thyroid. Many patients with hypothyroid will respond very well to thyroid treatment even though their lab tests are considered "normal". Even thought lab tests can be helpful in the diagnosis, doctors should focus on treating the patient instead of treating the lab values.
Another very simple and effective method to detect low thyroid is for the patient to measure their basal body temperature at home using a mercury thermometer. The basal temperature is measured by putting the thermometer under the arm for five minutes before getting out of bed. Men and post-menopausal women should record their temperatures for a week, menstruating women should start recording their temperature for a week beginning on day two of their period. Anyone with an average temperature of less than 97.6 F could be hypothyroid and should consult a skilled physician for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Once a diagnosis is made, the conventional treatment of hypothyroidism is to prescribe synthetic thyroid (Synthroid) and retest the TSH level in 4-6 weeks. The goal of the treatment is to bring the TSH level back into a normal range. This approach can be effective for some patients, but many patients do not feel better even after achieving normal TSH lab values.
When choosing a doctor to help with your potential low thyroid, you should ask whether the doctor uses medications other than Synthroid. Synthroid is the most commonly prescribed thyroid medication but is not the best solution. Physicians with experience in successfully treating thyroid disease will also utilize other alternatives such as natural compounded T3/T4 hormone, or Armour thyroid. Natural supplements such as l-tyrosine, iodine, bladderwrack (sea weed), natural progesterone, adrenal and thyroid glandulars can also stimulate thyroid function.
Many of you reading this article of are suffering needlessly from the symptoms of an undiagnosed or ineffectively treated health problem. The ideas and suggestions contained in this article should provide you with a starting point and some direction for pursuing an effective solution.
Dr. William Nelson, NMD
Dr. William Nelson is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor in private practice in North Scottsdale. He specializes in metabolic typing and science based natural therapies for the treatment and prevention of all chronic and acute health concerns. His office address and phone number are:
8711 East Pinnacle Peak Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85255