Thyroid problems are often seen worldwide.
In the United States alone, an estimated 20 million adults are living with some type of thyroid disease. The most common thyroid diseases are hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, and Grave's disease, but the list goes on and on. These conditions can cause a variety of symptoms that make the diagnosis and treatment process a lot more difficult.
Perhaps that is why over the years, there have been so many myths and misunderstandings about the thyroid gland and common thyroid diseases that it seems almost impossible to separate the truth from the fiction.
In today's article, we will try to bring clarity to information about thyroid disease, by sharing some of the most common thyroid disease myths and misunderstandings.
These are the most common myths and misunderstandings about thyroid disease
Thyroid disease only affects women
Let’s start with what possible may be the biggest myth about thyroid disease. Many people tend to believe that thyroid disease affects only women.
While women are five to eight times more likely to develop [i]a thyroid disorder during their life, as compared with men, that certainly does not suggest only women can get thyroid diseases.
It is a simple fact that women are more commonly affected by thyroid disease; however, that does not mean that men cannot be affected by such health issues as well.
Thyroid disease can occur at any age and affect both sexes. For women, the risk increases during puberty, pregnancy, the postpartum period, and early menopause, while for men, the risk increases with the aging process.
If the symptoms are mild, you do not need treatment
Our thyroid gland takes part in maintaining multiple body functions. When the thyroid gland is not working properly, all of those body functions are bound to be affected as well, which results in numerous signs and symptoms.
While some patients experience only mild symptoms, that certainly does not mean that the patient does not require any treatment whatsoever.
If left untreated, thyroid diseases can easily lead to infertility, birth defects, obesity, heart problems, osteoporosis, and many others. Not to mention that all of these potential health issues are causing additional health risks as well, endangering our life.[ii]
It is of vital importance for everyone to keep in mind the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism – the two most common thyroid diseases, and visit their doctor if they notice the presence of these symptoms.
Once you start using medications, your symptoms will disappear
If that would only be the case. As we mentioned earlier, all of the present symptoms need to be reported to a healthcare professional with the ultimate goal of treating them.
And despite the fact that today, we have the opportunity to use some effective medications for thyroid disease that can help us eliminate the symptoms and improve our lives, instant symptom relief is not what these medications are able to offer.
Unfortunately, it can take up to a few months for the thyroid hormone levels to finally normalize and for the symptoms to be eliminated. Treating any thyroid issue usually proves to be a hard and time-consuming process, but dedicating yourself to it can deliver amazing results.
Thyroid disease is easily diagnosed
The variety of different symptoms caused by thyroid disease makes the process of diagnosing the root of the problem very hard. However, this should not discourage anyone from pursuing an opportunity to get their health issues diagnosed.
It has been suggested that around 60% of Americans with thyroid problems are undiagnosed.[iii]
Diagnosing and treating a thyroid disease are often long processes that can take a long time until a proper approach has been found. We said it once, and we will say it again – Just because these problems can take a long time to be discovered and treated properly, that does not mean that you should skip on going to the doctor and asking for help.
Symptoms occur only when your thyroid hormone levels are outside the normal ranges
Scientists and doctors all around the world have struggled to determine what the normal TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) is.
Today, it is believed that normal TSH levels are anything between 0.35 and 4.50 mIU/mL. However, it is also suggested that the “most normal TSH levels” are between 0.5 and 2.50 mIU/mL.[iv]
Over the years, it has been discussed that if your TSH levels are normal, then there is no reason to suspect a thyroid disease, as it is not possible one would happen.
While high levels of TSH have been linked to hyperthyroidism and lower than normal TSH levels have been linked to hypothyroidism, it is also possible that your TSH levels are within the normal ranges, and yet, thyroid disease is present.
For many people, TSH levels are not the end all be all indictor of thyroid disease.
Hypothyroidism can be only treated with levothyroxine
Most cases of hypothyroidism are treated with the use of a synthetic version of thyroxine, called levothyroxine. And while this medication is considered to be the golden standard in the treatment of hypothyroidism, it is wrong to believe that this is your only option.
There are many other medications that can be used to improve your thyroid gland function and normalize its hormone levels. While levothyroxine is doing a great job, you and your doctor can also discuss the use of some other medications, as well.
Liothyronine and natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) are popular choices as well.[v] They can be used in addition to using levothyroxine, or they can also be used alone, depending on the patient's health status and the severity of their condition.
Hyperthyroidism always causes weight loss
Although unexplained weight loss is commonly linked as one of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism and unexplained weight gain is linked to hypothyroidism, this is not always the case. People tend to link their changes in weight with these common thyroid disorders, but the truth is that not all patients experience unexplained weight changes.
If you are struggling with only mild symptoms of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, the chances are that you will not experience any unexplained changes in your weight. Most cases of hypo- and hyperthyroidism, where only mild symptoms are present, do not reflect on the individual's weight. However, as the severity of the condition itself is increasing, these changes in weight are expected to happen.
Thyroid diseases are easily treated
As the process of diagnosing the problem in the first place, treatment as well usually takes more time than any of us would like it to. The process of diagnosing and treating any thyroid disease is actually complex, and it requires different approaches and measures to be considered and applied.
Because of the variety of symptoms but also the many factors that are to be taken into consideration, there are hardly two identical cases of thyroid disease.
This makes the treatment process even harder, simply because what has caused positive effects for one patient does not necessarily mean that it will do the same thing for the next patient. However, the success rate for thyroid disease is high, and thankfully there are some great treatment methods to be explored.[vi]
Thyroid disease can be diagnosed by measuring your basal body temperature alone
Since the thyroid gland is included in the regulation of the body temperature, it is easy to believe that basal body temperature alone can be enough of a factor to complete the diagnosis of existing thyroid disease.
There are many alternative therapists that use the basal body temperature to diagnose and track the progress of thyroid disease treatment. But that is one huge myth, and here is why.
Although hypothyroidism is often seen causing hypothermia to occur, there are many other factors that take part in maintaining your basal body temperature. The list would include hormones, stress, illness, medications, environment, and many others.
It is would strongly recommend relying on some other diagnostic methods such as measuring your TSH levels and the free thyroxine levels as a way to detect any presence of thyroid disease.
If you are pregnant, you need to discontinue your use of thyroid medications
We previously mentioned how the risk of thyroid disease increases during pregnancy and the postpartum period. If you have been using any medications in the past, both prescribed and over-the-counter ones, then surely you know how important it is to consult your doctor about using any of these medications during your pregnancy. That is how the myth that we are about to discuss has been created.
Many women discontinue using their thyroid medications during pregnancy with the fear of them actually doing harm to their baby.
They should consult their doctors first. What many people do not know is the fact that levothyroxine is completely safe to be used during pregnancy.
Any worries about the dosage or any new symptoms are to be discussed with a doctor. Leaving your thyroid disease untreated during your pregnancy can actually do more harm than good since your baby is now completely dependent on your body to produce enough thyroid hormones for both of you.[vii]
Thyroid disease is often hard to diagnose and even harder to treat it properly. It can lead to a variety of symptoms that are easily mistaken for being caused by a different health issue, which only makes the process of diagnosing and treating a certain thyroid disease only harder.
This is perhaps why, over the years, so many myths and misunderstandings about the function of the thyroid gland and the existence of the thyroid diseases have been created.
From believing that women are the only ones ever to get diagnosed with thyroid disease, to believing that there is only one medication capable of treating your symptoms, these are many myths that people tend to believe, and that can make the process of diagnosing and treating the existing issue even harder.
We hope that today, we managed to explain why they are only myths and nothing more and raise awareness when it comes to managing the health of your thyroid gland in the future.
[ii] Rugge, J. B. (n.d.). Screening for and Treatment of Thyroid Dysfunction: An Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force [Internet].
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK285870/
[iii] Völzke, H., Lüdemann, J., Robinson, D. M., Spieker, K. W., Schwahn, C., Kramer, A., … Meng, W. (2003). The Prevalence of Undiagnosed Thyroid Disorders in a Previously Iodine-Deficient Area. Thyroid, 13(8), 803–810. doi: 10.1089/105072503768499680
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14558922
[iv] Sheehan, M. T. (2016). Biochemical Testing of the Thyroid: TSH is the Best and, Oftentimes, Only Test Needed – A Review for Primary Care. Clinical Medicine & Research, 14(2), 83–92. doi: 10.3121/cmr.2016.1309
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5321289/
[v] Hoang, T. D., Olsen, C. H., Mai, V. Q., Clyde, P. W., & Shakir, M. K. M. (2013). Desiccated Thyroid Extract Compared With Levothyroxine in the Treatment of Hypothyroidism: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Crossover Study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 98(5), 1982–1990. doi: 10.1210/jc.2012-4107
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23539727
[vi] Premawardhana, L. D. K. E., & Lazarus, J. H. (2006). Management of thyroid disorders. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 82(971), 552–558. doi: 10.1136/pgmj.2006.047290
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2585732/
[vii] Nazarpour, S., Tehrani, F. R., Simbar, M., Tohidi, M., Majd, H. A., & Azizi, F. (2017). Effects of levothyroxine treatment on pregnancy outcomes in pregnant women with autoimmune thyroid disease. European Journal of Endocrinology, 176(2), 253–265. doi: 10.1530/eje-16-0548
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27879326