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Being diagnosed with hypothyroidism can be scary and overwhelming – I know this from first-hand experience. You were probably told that you would need thyroid medication for life and that’s not easy to accept. But there are steps you can take to regain your health – so sit back, relax, and read through my research to find out what worked for me to eliminate my symptoms.Your first step towards healing is finding out what type of hypothyroidism you have – you need a correct diagnosis in order to establish a correct treatment protocol!
Introduction and Statistics
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland, located in front of the neck just below the larynx (voice box). The thyroid releases hormones that control your metabolism as well as heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development and bone maintenance.
Hypothyroidism means that your thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones. It’s most common in women but men and children can get it too. You’re certainly not alone – recent research estimates that as many as 27 million people in the US alone have some form of thyroid disease, and about 13 million of them are undiagnosed. That’s 1 in 13! It’s also estimated that 200 million people in the world have some form of thyroid disease. In Canada there is a staggering number of people affected. Recent studies indicate that 1 in 10 Canadians suffer from some type of thyroid condition and of those, as many as 50% are undiagnosed.
Some high-profile hypothyroidism sufferers include Oprah Winfrey; fitness guru Jillian Michaels; actress and screenwriter Nia Vardalos; actress Kim Cattrall; supermodel Kim Alexis; actress Gina Rodriguez; supermodel Karolina Kurkova.
Anyone can develop a thyroid disorder and it’s very important NOT to blame yourself or think about what you might have done to cause it.
Most Common Causes of Hypothyroidism
Here are the major causes for hypothyroidism, from the most to the least common:
- Autoimmune disease – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, accounting for about 90% of cases. Genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of Hashimoto’s.
- Surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid gland – commonly performed in patients with thyroid cancer, nodules or Graves’ disease
- Radiation treatment – for patients with Graves’ disease, nodular goiter, or thyroid cancer (I-131) for the purpose of destroying their thyroid gland
- Congenital hypothyroidism – some babies are born without a thyroid or with only a partly formed one.
- Too much or too little iodine – the thyroid needs the right amount of iodine to make thyroid hormone. Too much or too little iodine can cause or worsen hypothyroidism.
If you were told that you have hypothyroidism, your first job is to find out what type of hypothyroidism you have – this is essential in establishing a correct treatment protocol. If your doctor didn’t specify, please contact them and request that information.
Types of Hypothyroidism
1) Primary hypothyroidism is the classic hypothyroid condition. The cause of the problem lies in the thyroid itself. As such the output of T4 from the thyroid is low and the conversion of T4 into T3 is also decreased. On a blood test you will see high TSH, and low T4 and T3 levels. Primary hypothyroidism means that your hypothyroidism is caused by your thyroid not working properly, as opposed to secondary hypothyroidism which is caused by your thyroid not getting the signals to produce enough thyroid hormone. You can have secondary hypothyroidism without having anything actually wrong with your thyroid itself. Primary hypothyroidism can either be autoimmune (Hashimoto’s) or non-autoimmune.
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease. Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune thyroid disorder, characterized by the production of thyroid antibodies by the immune system. What that means is your immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid and destroys thyroid tissue. In 90% of the cases if you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you have Hashimoto’s.
The diagnosis is made by measuring blood levels of thyroid hormones T4 and T3 and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to determine how the gland is functioning as well as TPO antibodies and Tg antibodies.
With Hashimoto’s disease the main problem lies within your immune system, not your thyroid. Regardless, western medicine treats Hashimoto’s with hormone supplementation to relieve symptoms, and does not address the auto-immune condition in any way. That’s one of the reasons why many patients continue to suffer from hypothyroidism symptoms after being put on thyroid medication.
2) Secondary hypothyroidism is a form of hypothyroidism that is becoming more common in recent years. The thyroid itself is working normally, but the anterior pituitary is no longer able to produce TSH due to some kind of anterior pituitary dysfunction. On a blood test you will see low TSH levels, and normal T4 and T3 levels.
3) Postpartum Thyroiditis – Pregnant women may develop abnormalities in her thyroid gland right after giving birth. The problem may be due to unbalanced hormones. In most cases, the condition resolves on its own.
4) Congenital hypothyroidism occurs in one in every 3,000 – 4,000 births, making it the most common hormonal disorder in infants. In 90% of these cases, it persists throughout life.
5) Subclinical hypothyroidism refers to elevated TSH levels in patients with otherwise normal levels of thyroid hormone, both FT4 and FT3, associated with few or no symptoms of hypothyroidism. In most cases subclinical hypothyroidism is caused by autoimmune thyroid disease. In this type of hypothyroidism it’s important to address and improve immune health which can resolve subclinical hypothyroidism.
Obtaining the Right Diagnosis
I want to point out once again the importance of obtaining a correct diagnosis. I’ll give you an example from an article I recently read about actress Gina Rodriguez. She was diagnosed as having “thyroid disease” about 10 years earlier. However, she did not realize that the cause of her condition was actually Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
“While I was shooting the pilot, I was training for a half marathon and I went to see my holistic doctor right after the marathon was done.“She said, ‘From your test results, let’s talk about your Hashimoto’s (disease).’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about? I have thyroid disease’ and she said, ‘No, no you have Hashimoto’s and to be honest, I don’t know how you’re standing right now and why you’re not asleep. I thought somebody would be bringing you here.’
Something similar happened to me as well, my doctor told me that “my thyroid is off” and that was it. I had to look up my lab results online to find out that I did indeed have Hashimoto’s but apparently my then-doctor didn’t think it was important to inform me that I had an auto-immune disease.
On that note, if your doctor gave you a generic diagnosis like “thyroid disease” please discuss with him or her further and request a copy of your bloodwork for a second opinion if necessary. I’m a huge proponent of being your own advocate – you have to be informed, ask the right questions and work towards improvement. Unfortunately the vast majority of practitioners will send you home with a synthroid prescription, and tell you there’s nothing else they can do for you. So it’s important for patients to be educated and take control of their own health.
In the next article we’ll discuss hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s in more detail – understanding your condition is essential in determining the right treatment.