The treatment — and mistreatment — of hypothyroidism

Do you suffer from hypothyroidism and still feel terrible despite treatment? You’re not alone.

In the book “Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal: A Revolutionary Breakthrough In Understanding Hashimoto’s Disease and Hypothyroidism,” Dr. Datis Kharrazian explores the many reasons behind the mismanagement of the disease under today’s old-fashioned medical standards. He says that out of the 27 million Americans who suffer from thyroid dysfunction, more than half are due to an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease, in which the immune system attacks and destroys thyroid gland tissue.

“Thyroid replacement hormones are a first line of defense for many doctors, prescribed with the promise of wiping out a number of symptoms in one fell swoop. But taking that approach is turning a blind eye to what caused the thyroid to become depressed in the first place,” he writes. The underlying causes can range from irregular immune function and poor blood sugar metabolism to gut infections, adrenal problems, and hormonal imbalances.

“I thought I was going crazy,” says Raquel Sanderson, a mom of two from Chelsea. After taking Synthroid — a thyroid hormone — she still had headaches, exhaustion and stomach disturbances, yet her endocrinologist kept telling her she was fine because her thyroid-stimulating hormone was normal.

“For two years, my doctor told me I was fine even though, deep down, I knew I wasn’t. I finally saw a new endo who realized that my T3 [thyroid hormone] was off, and I had a gluten intolerance. Once I changed medications and stopped eating gluten, I felt worlds better.”

Hypothyroidism is a horribly mistreated and misunderstood disease. Not only does it remain undiagnosed in scores of people (including children), but once diagnosed, the old-school treatment of a single daily synthetic hormone replacement pill is not always effective. For some, while it may very well improve the overall thyroid-stimulating hormone (the hallmark test for diagnosing hypothyroidism), it often does not improve the symptoms in Hashimoto’s disease.

So if a woman goes to the doctor complaining of headaches, weight gain, extreme fatigue, depression, exhaustion, brain fog and a host of other symptoms, some doctors just chalk it up to the aging process and stress. If the doctor actually orders a thyroid test that comes back positive, the patient will be given Synthroid and the doses will be adjusted for a few follow-up visits until the correct dosage is identified. A correct dosage will leave the thyroid gland neither too sluggish nor too hyperactive (which commonly happens at the beginning of treatment). Eventually, the thyroid-stimulating hormone will reach a value deemed normal by the labs and the woman will be told all is well.

Except, in many cases, it’s not.

Numerous women still feel terrible and exhibit the same symptoms they had before treatment. Even in this day and age of medical advancements, for whatever reason, the majority of doctors still treat this disease the same way they did 50 years ago, despite the new research showing how nutritional and natural methods (such as avoiding gluten and bad carbs) are known to help improve symptoms. Yes, Synthroid is effective, but it is not the end of treatment, and just because your thyroid-stimulating hormone has leveled off, it does not mean you will be symptom free.

Most distressing however, is the fact that doctors still offer the same standard treatment despite women returning and presenting with the same symptoms. Now they not only feel physically exhausted, but also begin to doubt themselves after being told they should feel better now. What’s worse is when endocrinologists suggest that the symptoms may be mental, as in the patient may be anxious, stressed out, or have another issue because her “numbers are fine.”

There is also a supreme lack of information and extreme compliance to outdated standards that keep it that way, and in turn keep thyroid sufferers … well, suffering. The bottom line is that if you still feel terrible despite treatment, it might be time to consider another doctor. Keep searching for an endocrinologist who takes your symptoms seriously and is willing to work with you until you feel better.

“I only wish I listened to myself earlier and found a new doctor,” says Sanderson. “There are fabulous endocrinologists out there, you just have to seek them out, and if you don’t feel well, and your doctor dismisses your symptoms, find a new doctor fast. Don’t ever let a doctor tell you that your symptoms are only in your head. Get a second and third, or even fourth opinion. Just don’t give up.”

Danielle Sullivan, a Brooklyn-born mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for more than 10 years, and was recently honored with a Gold award for her health column by the Parenting Media Association. She also writes for Babble. You can find her on her blog, Just Write Mom.