Is it nearly impossible for you to lose weight? Do you feel tired despite sleeping eight or more hours nightly? Or are do you suffer from palpitations and have difficulty sleeping? You may be one of the 30 million Americans who have a thyroid disorder. At least half—15 million—are silent sufferers who are undiagnosed, according to The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE). Women are as much as 10 times as likely as men to have a thyroid problem.
The AACE recommends a detection method for a thyroid disorder is to “check your neck” for a thyroid nodule, which is a lump on or in the thyroid gland. As an awareness measure, AACE issues “Neck Check” cards to endocrinologists for distribution to their patients. The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the base of the neck that produces hormones that affect the function of many of the body’s most important organs, including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin.
What are signs and symptoms of thyroid disease and what you can do to find out whether your thyroid functioning is optimal? Salonpas sat down with two leading physicians to get the “inside skinny” on thyroid disorders – David Borenstein, a leading integrative medicine physician, and Dr. Akram Alashari, a surgeon and critical care physician, to get more information on the role of the thyroid gland and treatment of thyroid diseases:
“Thyroid disease will present in one of three ways,” says Dr. Alashari who is based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “It will present as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, or thyroid masses. Patients who have hypothyroidism will experience fatigue and lethargy, constipation, cold intolerance, weight gain, decreased appetite, hair loss, and decreased cognition. Patient with hyperthyroidism will present with sweating, palpitations, heat intolerance, hyperactivity, difficulty sleeping, and may have exophthalmos, which is protruding of the eyes. Patients with thyroid tumors may present with masses in the thyroid gland that can become palpable.”
“The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease,” says the New York-based Dr. Borenstein. Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease, a disorder in which the immune system turns against the body’s own tissues. In people with Hashimoto’s, the immune system attacks the thyroid. This can lead to hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid does not make enough hormones for the body’s needs. “Other causes that can result in thyroid issues can include radiation therapy, previous treatment for hyperthyroidism, medications or exposure to heavy metals.”
What problems can occur if hypo or hyperthyroidism goes undiagnosed? “If someone is showing signs of hypo or hyperthyroidism and it goes undiagnosed the conditions will continue to get worse,” says Dr. Borenstein. Some of the common complications if left untreated include a risk of child birth defects with pregnant women, an enlarged goiter – the thyroid gland is located in the throat and if left untreated can cause a bulge in the neck, Heart problems – hypothyroidism, even mild, can affect the health of your heart.”
“An underactive thyroid can increase your risk of developing heart disease because it can increase your levels of bad cholesterol,” says Dr. Borenstein. “Hypothyroidism can also result in the build of fluid around the heart causing the heart to pump harder. Infertility and mental health issues due to depression are also risks present to those who fail to get diagnosed.”
Anyone suffering from this litany of symptoms should be proactive with their doctor and consider visit an endocrinologist in place of their primary physician for true expert care. Blood tests can determine if a patient has hyper or hypo-thyroidism. “Every patient is different,” says Dr. Borenstein. “I have my patients check their blood levels three times per year once we get their levels under control. In the beginning it may take repeated blood tests, sometimes every 6-8 weeks, to get the levels under control with the correct medication treatment. We measure their free T4 and TSH results. The T4 test is known as the thyroxine test. The TSH test measures the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone in your blood. These are the two most common thyroid function tests and are usually ordered together. T3 and reverse T3 as well as thyroid antibodies should be tested.”
“Patients with hypothyroidism generally need lifelong thyroid replacement therapy,” says Dr. Alashari. “They will need to be treated with various medications including Synthroid or we can compound medications specific to them,” says Dr. Borenstein.
Some doctors who treat thyroid disease recommend a diet overhaul. “If the patient has autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s), I highly recommend following a gluten, dairy and soy-free diet,” says Dr. Borenstein. “I also suggest Selenium and supplements to improve the gut. I also recommend L Glutamine, probiotics and L-tyrosine.”