10 Signs Your Doctor May Be Mishandling Your Thyroid Rxby Mary Shomon Patient Advocate
Doctors spend quite a bit of time in school, learning the ins and out of medicine in order to be licensed to practice. But having a medical degree does not mean that your doctor is always right, especially when it comes to your thyroid care. If you are struggling to get diagnosed and treated, it’s time to become familiar with these 10 myths about thyroid disease that your doctor may be telling you.
Thyroid disease is easy to diagnose
Doctors love to say that thyroid disease is “easy to diagnose.” Unfortunately, you may have symptoms but your doctor doesn’t believe in treating subclinical hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Or you may have Hashimoto’s disease, but since your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is in the reference range, your doctor won’t treat you. Diagnosis of a thyroid condition is both art and science, and should take into account not only blood test results, but symptoms, health history, and autoimmune status.
Thyroid disease is easy to treat
Doctors also say thyroid disease is “easy to treat.” It’s easy to write a prescription and consider the job done. But research shows that some thyroid patients continue to have symptoms like weight gain, fatigue, and depression after thyroid treatment. Effective thyroid treatment should involve careful evaluation of all your treatment options and often requires an open-minded, trial-and-error approach to resolve your symptoms over time.
Levothyroxine is the only treatment for hypothyroidism
The conventional treatment for hypothyroidism is the thyroid drug levothyroxine, a synthetic form of the T4 hormone. (Brand names include Synthroid, Levoxyl, and Tirosint.) Some doctors say that levothyroxine is the only treatment. Not true. Some patients do better with the addition of synthetic T3 — liothyronine (brand-name Cytomel) — time-released, compounded T3. Others feel better taking natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) drugs like Nature-throid or Armour Thyroid.
No one prescribes natural desiccated thyroid anymore
It’s common to hear conventional physicians tell patients — and the media — that no one prescribes old-fashioned natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) drugs like Nature-throid or Armour anymore, or that these drugs are going off the market. The truth? NDT has been prescribed to treat hypothyroidism for 100+ years and remains an FDA-regulated treatment. Several million prescriptions are written annually for NDT, and there are no signs that these drugs will be removed from the market.
Thyroid disease does not cause weight gain
Doctors often say that hypothyroidism has nothing to do with weight gain. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even small differences in thyroid function are associated with weight gain, and research shows that after hyperthyroidism treatment, many newly hypothyroid patients are at risk of significant weight gain and obesity. Hypothyroidism also increases your risk of metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes, which can all contribute to weight gain.
If you're hyperthyroid, you need radioactive iodine (RAI)
Radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment permanently disables the thyroid gland and leaves patients hypothyroid. It is one treatment for hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease, but it is not the only treatment. In fact, many physicians do not consider it a first-line treatment, and instead, recommend antithyroid drugs, which can sometimes cause a remission. If you have Graves’ or hyperthyroidism and your doctor is “rushing to RAI,” ask about antithyroid drugs or surgery as treatment options.
You shouldn't be on an antithyroid drug long-term
Physicians have long said that patients with hyperthyroidism and/or Graves’ disease should not be on antithyroid drugs for long-term treatment. Little justification was offered, even as patients were encouraged to permanently disable the thyroid with RAI treatment. Newer research has shown that long-term antithyroid treatment is safe and effective. If you tolerate antithyroid drugs, there is no reason to discontinue drug treatment for your hyperthyroidism.
You always need a thyroidectomy for a suspicious nodule
In the past, if you had a suspicious thyroid nodule, you would have a fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy to look for cancer. If you had an inconclusive nodule, your doctor would recommend surgery to rule out cancer. Now, the Afirma Thyroid Analysis test can eliminate most inconclusive biopsy results without a needless thyroidectomy. Unfortunately, not all doctors are aware of this test option. Make sure to ask about the test before having surgery for an inconclusive nodule.
Thyroid cancer is the "good" cancer
When you are diagnosed with thyroid cancer, you may hear doctors say “thyroid cancer is the good cancer.” They are referring to the excellent prognosis of most forms of thyroid cancer. At the same time, to patients, no cancer is “good.” But even highly survivable thyroid cancer still typically requires surgery, follow-up, and life-long hypothyroidism treatment. It’s insensitive at best — and at worst, a lie — to describe thyroid cancer as a “good” cancer.
Supplements can't help your thyroid
Conventional doctors often say that supplements can’t help your thyroid. They are ignoring some research that shows, for example, that:
- If you are borderline hypothyroid and iodine deficient, iodine supplementation may restore your thyroid to normal function.
- Selenium supplementation can lower thyroid antibodies.
- Tyrosine and zinc can improve thyroid function.
For more knowledgeable advice about supplements, vitamins, and herbs, consider seeing a naturopathic physician.