Q & A: Is Thyroid Dysfunction the Cause of Your Symptoms?

Q & A: Is Thyroid Dysfunction the Cause of Your Symptoms?

What is the thyroid and why is it important?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that lies in front of the windpipe (trachea), just below the voice box (larynx). The thyroid gland uses iodine to make thyroid hormone which influences almost all of the metabolic processes in the body.

What is TSH?

TSH stands for thyroid stimulating hormone. It is secreted from the pituitary gland and tells the thyroid to produce thyroid hormone. The conventional way of diagnosing hypothyroidism is with an elevated TSH (a sign that there is not enough thyroid hormone, so the pituitary is trying to tell the thyroid to make more). The problem with this is that there can be many symptoms and manifestations of hypothyroidism long before the TSH is affected, if it is even affected at all.

 
 

What problems can occur with the thyroid?

Thyroid disorders can range from a small, benign goiter (enlarged gland) to life-threatening cancer. The most common thyroid problem is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where there is an autoimmune “attack” on the thyroid and the result is hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. Too much thyroid hormone production results in a condition known as hyperthyroidism, which is less common than hypothyroidism.

How do I know if I have thyroid problems?

Most people with thyroid issues present with similar symptoms. Hypothyroid symptoms are the most common and are very different that hyperthyroid symptoms. Here is a list of the most common symptoms associated with hypo and hyperthyroidism:

Hypothyroid:                                                              

Changes in the menstrual cycle

Constipation

Dry skin or hair

Weight gain

Hair loss

Fatigue

Cold intolerance

Hyperthyroidism:

Weight loss

Tremors

Anxiety or nervousness

Loose bowel movements

Heat intolerance

How do I find out if my symptoms are from my thyroid?

Your doctor can check blood tests to see if you have overactive or underactive thyroid.

 
 

My labs are normal, so why do I still have symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Many of the symptoms of thyroid disorders are vague and can be caused by other issues. So it is possible that you have something else going on. However, at Foundations we approach the thyroid a little differently than most conventional physicians. We feel that it is certainly possible, if not likely, to have symptoms caused by hypothyroidism even with “normal labs,” i.e. “normal” TSH. One illustration I use is shoe size. The normal shoe size for a woman is 5-9. If you wear a size 9 but I give you a size 5 you are not going to be comfortable, even though it is within normal limits. Likewise, just because your TSH falls within what is often considered a “normal” range, you may still experience symptoms of an underactive thyroid. In addition to TSH we also check a comprehensive thyroid panel to ensure that your body is using thyroid hormone appropriately. I see many patients who suffer from fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, and constipation who have seen multiple doctors and had their TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) checked, and told that it is normal. However when we dig a little deeper we often find that the thryroid is not functioning optimally even though some of their labs are “normal”.

Thyroid disorders are very common and I believe often underdiagnosed. If you have symptoms of hypo or hyperthyroidism I recommend getting in to see your doctor and have a thorough exam and lab evaluation performed.

Amanda Chavers