Symptoms of Thyroid Problems
Undetected thyroid problems have plagued people for years, and continue to be an underlying cause for a variety of ailments that doctors hear about today. The onset of hypothyroidism is often subtle, with symptoms gradually worsening over time, becoming more obvious as people age. To further complicate matters, the symptoms of hypothyroidism are varied, affecting each individual differently, including:
- Excessive fatigue
- Increasing sensitivity to cold, feeling chilly even at normal room temperature
- Slow, rapid, or irregular heartbeat
- Menstrual problems, with possible infertility
- Weight-related problems, including difficulty losing weight, or unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- Fluid retention, especially around the eyes
- Coarse or brittle hair, with slow growth or excessive hair loss
- Skin problems such as dry, rough, scaly skin
- Mental impairment, including depression, inability to concentrate, and poor memory
- Decreased or minimal perspiration, even in hot weather or during exertion
- Constipation that is resistant to laxatives or magnesium supplements
- Infection, especially respiratory infections
- Muscle weakness
- Joint pain
Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals still do not recognize these symptoms as being potentially related to thyroid function. This is another reason that hypothyroidism is often overlooked, remaining undetected until more severe symptoms develop.
The fact that many menstrual irregularities are related to hypothyroidism has been commonly accepted for quite some time. As early as 1914, Dr. Eugene Hertoghe, a distinguished Belgian endocrinologist, noted: “The thyroid has a great influence on menstruation, pregnancy, lactation, and even uterine involution after childbirth.” And in 1982, Dr. Broda Barnes confirmed that “There are many possible causes for menstrual difficulties. Among them are ovarian cysts, fibroids, and cervical polyps, [as well as] endometriosis … But in the vast majority of women, there is no evidence of any [organ-related] problem. What is commonly evident if it is sought is low thyroid function.”
Dr. Barnes continued, “Forty years ago, … leading gynecologists … were reporting that thyroid [therapy] had cured more menstrual disorders than all other medications combined. Unfortunately, that lesson seems to have been largely lost.” Even more unfortunately for the many women who suffer from menstrual problems, that lesson still seems lost today, almost thirty years later.
Reliance solely on blood testing for determining thyroid deficiencies, coupled with the development and use of synthetic thyroid hormones, has caused many menstrual-related thyroid disorders to go untreated, according to Dr. Barnes. He believed and practiced that, without evidence of an organ-related cause, most menstrual problems (including miscarriage and infertility) could be remedied with proper thyroid therapy. His book, Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness, contains numerous anecdotes, examples, and case studies that demonstrate Dr. Barnes’ success rate. Some of this success was due to the fact that he looked at both members of a couple (not just the woman), and thereby recognized hypothyroidism in the father as a potential part of the problem.
Over the past few decades, it has been well documented that infertility is on the rise. There may be a link between the rise in untreated hypothyroidism and the rise in infertility. This possible connection warrants further research, especially in light of the success Dr. Barnes had with treating infertile couples.
Heart diseases may be related to hypothyroidism. Thyroid secretions also control cholesterol levels, which means that hypothyroidism may be a primary contributor to atherosclerosis. Thyroid deficiencies may lead to accelerated blood clotting (producing a clot that may block a clogged artery), as well as increased blood pressure and excessive fatigue — all factors that may increase the risk of stroke or heart attack.
Years ago, there was some concern that thyroid treatment could lead to osteoporosis. Even though this has not proven to be true, women are still warned about it today. In fact, according to Dr. Ray Peat in the Townsend Letter for Doctors, the opposite is more likely to be true. He states, “Hypothyroidism, whether natural or promoted by administered [levo]thyroxine, retards bone modeling and tissue repair in general.” Osteoporosis may result from hypothyroidism itself, or from levothyroxine pills (which are only T4) if there is a poor conversion of T4 to T3.
Dr. Peat contends that the risk of osteoporosis is likely to be greater without administering proper thyroid hormone therapy.
The current method of treatment for hypothyroidism is some form of thyroid hormone replacement that provides either T3 or T4, or a combination of the two. The most commonly prescribed thyroid therapy is levothyroxine, with brand names such as Synthroid, Levothroid, or Levoxyl, and which contain only T4. T3 is available as Cytomel.
Although the predominant treatment is T4, some medical practitioners question the value of T4-only treatment. In fact, a New England Journal of Medicine article reinforced the significance of T3 in treating hypothyroidism, which lends support to practitioners’ concerns. For example, Dr. Mercola states that many people being treated for hypothyroidism with T4 are actually being under-treated, and suggests the excessive reliance on single-thyroid treatments (T4) and the subsequent blood test results indicating a “normal” TSH level are the primary reasons for the oversight.
Ray Peat, PhD, adds that “If the liver is the main source of the thyroid problem, then [levo]thyroxine pills [which are only T4] can make the problem worse …” because the liver is not converting T4 to T3, and the treatment is further suppressing T3 production from the thyroid. In the majority of cases, it seems that the significance of T3 — the biochemically active thyroid hormone — is being ignored during diagnosis, treatment, and subsequent treatment monitoring.
As mentioned previously, there are many factors that may impair the conversion of T4 to T3. A significant number of patients do not convert T4 to T3 at a sufficient rate (or at all), necessitating a treatment that combines both hormones. In fact, some practitioners do use compounded mixtures that include both T3 and T4.