We may not realize that we need a thyroid test.
When Suzanne turned 42, she noticed that she put on an extra few pounds. That’s fine, she thinks, it must be a little bloat from my period. But when her menstrual cycle passes, she still has difficulty buttoning up her waistband.
Suzanne starts putting in extra time at the gym and cut all carbs from her diet. A few weeks in, she notices that the number on the scale hasn’t really budged – in fact, it’s going up! Her energy has dropped, too. Better work a little harder, she thinks.
With her weight going up, and her energy going down, Suzanne finally calls her doctor. Her doctor notices her complaints as possible signs of hypothyroidism.
What is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is not able to produce enough thyroid hormone. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. It produces hormones that regulate your body’s energy use, along with many other essential functions. When thyroid hormone production drops, your body processes slow down and change, too.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid may include fatigue, weakness, weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight, dry hair or hair loss, dry skin, cold intolerance, muscle aches or weakness, constipation, feelings of depression, brain fog, abnormal menstrual cycles, or decreased libido.
Each person may experience symptoms of hypothyroidism differently, and symptoms can vary with the severity of the condition. Some may experience no symptoms at all.
Who is at risk for hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is especially common in women, who are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems. While people of any age can develop hypothyroidism, those in middle age, like our girl Suzanne, are more likely to get it. Women over 60 have the highest risk.
What’s most shocking is that up to 60% of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition. Undiagnosed thyroid disease can put you at risk for other serious health problems like heart diseases, bone loss, or infertility.
The American Thyroid Association and American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommend screening for hypothyroidism in patients who are:
- 60 years or older
- At increased risk for hypothyroidism
- Planning pregnancy
A simple thyroid test can save lives
An easy (albeit comprehensive) thyroid panel can help you understand how your thyroid is working. Many labs look only at thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to assess thyroid health. We believe it’s critical to also ask your doctor to measure free triiodothyronine (fT3), free thyroxine (fT4), and TPO antibodies to get the full picture of how your thyroid is functioning.
How to treat
Treatment for hypothyroidism typically involves taking thyroid hormone replacement medication to make up for the lack of hormone in the body. Lifestyle and nutritional changes can support healthy thyroid function, but optimizing your thyroid levels with medication is often the first step in feeling better.
When choosing thyroid medication, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. There are many different formulations of hormone replacements, and each of our bodies will not all react the same way to a specific medication or dosage. Each of us is unique with unique sensitivities.
Work with a trustworthy care team to determine a treatment plan that’s right for you!
January is National Thyroid Awareness Month
In December 2019, Paloma Health conducted a survey of 232 thyroid patients to better understand the current state of thyroid care in the United States. 68% of participants say they waited over a year with symptoms for diagnosis. Over half of those people waited over 3 years!
We think that’s way too long.
Get your thyroid tested this month to learn if it may be to blame for your frustrating symptoms.
Katie Wilkinson is part of the community team at Paloma Health, the first online medical practice focused exclusively on hypothyroidism. Inspired by the women in her life who manage chronic conditions, Katie believes that by reimagining care solutions, we can help people feel better – faster. When not connecting with patients, you can find her exploring the great outdoors or testing and retesting her from-scratch sourdough bread recipe.