Could I Have Thyroid Disease and Not Know It?

The short answer is yes, you could have symptoms you may not realize are indicative of some form of thyroid disease. In fact, the American Thyroid Association states that approximately 20 million Americans have thyroid disease, but an estimated 60 percent actually have thyroid disease and don’t realize it. Women are between five and eight times more likely to develop a thyroid problem than men—one in eight women will have some type of thyroid disease in her lifetime.

One reason thyroid symptoms are often overlooked or misinterpreted is because they can be the same as or similar to familiar signs of aging. Early symptoms of both hypothyroidism (underproduction of T3 and T4 hormones) and hyperthyroidism (overproduction of T3 and T4 hormones) can seem like something relatively innocuous or like a different health problem altogether.

For example, a middle-aged woman who starts gaining weight but hasn’t changed her diet, feels tired, and has some trouble focusing on tasks may write all this off to normal aging. However, she may actually be experiencing some early signs of hypothyroidism. On the other hand, someone who’s experiencing increased heart rate, fatigue, weight loss, and is having difficulty sleeping (among a number of other possible symptoms) may attribute these symptoms, individually or in combination, to something else—hyperthyroidism shares the same symptoms as other diseases and disorders.

You may be asking, “If my symptoms aren’t severe and don’t impact my lifestyle, is thyroid disease still a health risk? Do I need to be concerned about thyroid disease?” As I state on my Thyroid Recovery Formula site, what you don’t know can hurt you: “Undiagnosed thyroid disorders put patients at risk for infertility, osteoporosis, and heart disease.” Symptoms that seem unimportant or tolerable are still signs that something is wrong, and the sooner you’re diagnosed, the better your chances for reversing or better managing your thyroid disorder and avoiding serious health risks.

So let’s say you’ve experienced some thyroid symptoms and you wisely decide not to take the risky “wait and see” attitude. You make an appointment and tell your doctor about your symptoms, and he runs a standard blood test for TSH levels (thyroid stimulating hormone). When your results come back, your doctor says your markers are within normal range, so he sends you home telling you it’s all in your head, your symptoms aren’t related to your thyroid, or maybe he offers you a random prescription to “see if it helps.” If you’re lucky, you’ll get a brief—not permanent—respite from some symptoms; at worst, you’ll develop new symptoms or health issues for which your doctor may add more medications.

None of these outcomes is a solution, and as I’ve already mentioned, doing nothing is risky business. At this point you’d probably be wondering how your TSH levels can be normal if you’re still experiencing symptoms that all seem to relate to your thyroid. This is, unfortunately, not an unusual situation—about fifty percent of patients remain undiagnosed after being tested for thyroid disease.

The fact is that simply testing TSH levels isn’t enough; far more comprehensive blood tests along with other lab tests as well as consideration of cortisol levels, nutritional/vitamin/mineral deficiencies, medications, lifestyle factors, medical history, and more paint a complete picture of what’s really going on in a person’s body and where the root of the problem lies. Only then can a true solution be reached. TSH levels aren’t the end of the story, they’re just the very beginning.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

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For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.