Hypothyroidism: Have you been misdiagnosed?

Main problem with hypothyroidism is that few women who have it get diagnosed or treated

Don't Be Surprised If You Been Misdiagnosed  

A few months ago, some interesting information about hypothyroidism misdiagnosis was presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Family Physicians. I wanted to share these findings with you because it is quite possible that you or someone you know has been affected.

Why? Because hypothyroidism is relatively common—it affects about 4 percent of the general population, but in women over 60, the risk is nearly 20 percent.

Take this simple quiz to see if you have hypothyroidism.

Plus, the condition is eight times more likely to occur in women than men. Hypothyroidism causes a long list of supposedly unavoidable, age-related health issues such as brain fog, sleep disturbances, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, strokes, peripheral artery disease, depression, anxiety, and heart attacks.

However, the main problem with hypothyroidism is that few women who have it get diagnosed or treated because their symptoms are shrugged off as part of getting older. But correcting a thyroid dysfunction could actually protect you from getting those other "age-related" problems.

Unfortunately, it does not often occur to doctors to check a woman's thyroid function, which is why it is so important to know what symptoms to look for so that you can be your own health advocate. 

Misleading Symptoms Equal a Missed Diagnosis

In the over-50 population, hypothyroidism commonly manifests in one of two ways: It's either overt or it's subclinical.

Subclinical hypothyroidism means that either there aren't any symptoms or they're so subtle that everybody—doctor and patient—shrug them off.

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Doctors often prescribe potentially harmful statin drugs

So, it is unlikely to get diagnosed. If it's overt hypothyroidism, the symptoms might include fatigue, weight gain, thinning hair, and feeling chilled.

The problem is that even these fairly obvious symptoms are commonly and mistakenly attributed to age. To add to the confusion, recent studies have confirmed that hypothyroidism often causes misleading symptoms that send doctors down diagnostic rabbit trails, resulting in misdiagnosis, unnecessary treatments, and dramatically increased risk of tragic health consequences.

For example:

► Rising cholesterol levels. Studies show that women who have more than one lipid abnormality—elevated LDL ("bad") cholesterol, inadequate HDL ("good") cholesterol, and/or high triglycerides—are more than twice as likely to have hypothyroidism (as reported in, Thyroid Research).

Oftentimes, doctors automatically prescribe potentially harmful statin drugs without even thinking about checking thyroid function.

► Muscle aches and pains. Muscle pain, stiffness, and cramps are common but rarely recognized symptoms of hypothyroidism. In some cases, the muscle cells actually rupture and release break-down products into the bloodstream.

► Metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a huge and well-known risk factor for cardiovascular disease. And, recent studies have found that hypothyroidism is a huge risk factor for metabolic syndrome (Thyroid Research).

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► Depression. Symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, lethargy, loss of initiative, decreased joy, sleep disturbances, and loss of sex drive, are often seen as just that: symptoms of depression.

But these symptoms are often the result of hypothyroidism, which reduces brain activity of the neurotransmitter and "good mood hormone" serotonin.

A recent study confirms that women with hypothyroidism have significantly lower circulating levels of serotonin, suggesting that depression should trigger an investigation of thyroid functioning rather than a knee-jerk prescription for an antidepressant (as in the Neuropsychobiology Study, Hormone Research).

► Brain fog. Slow mental processing, memory problems, difficulty finding the right word, and other worrisome signs of possible cognitive impairment are something every aging woman worries about.

Believe it or not, they're also symptoms of hypothyroidism. It just so happens that a large percentage of nursing home residents who've been diagnosed with dementia also have undiagnosed hypothyroidism (Southern Medical Journal).

► Deep vein thrombosis. Hypothyroidism has been associated with a dangerous tendency for blood to clot inappropriately, and for plaque-related stiffening in the carotid and peripheral arteries. A recent Italian study has confirmed that there's a definite link between unprovoked deep vein thrombosis and hypothyroidism (Thrombosis and Haemostasis)

► Dangerously low blood sodium levels (hyponatremia). You've probably heard of people who die from drinking too much water. Their extreme water intake dilutes out the sodium in their cells, which results in swelling in all tissues, including the brain. There are a variety of other serious health conditions that can cause hyponatremia, and successfully treating it requires figuring out what the underlying problem is.

Unfortunately, many physicians are unaware that hypothyroidism, especially in the elderly, is one possible cause (Family Practice News; American Family Physician).

Other signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism that are often mistaken as other conditions include anxiety, abnormally slow resting heart rate, decreased exercise capacity, neuromuscular symptoms, and weakness.

Be Your Own Thyroid Health Advocate

The symptoms of hypothyroidism are so vague that they can be (and usually are) attributed to just about any condition, including age. Unfortunately, letting hypothyroidism go untreated can (and often does) severely tarnish the golden years with uncomfortable and debilitating problems.

Therefore, I encourage every woman age 50 or older to specifically request that her healthcare provider submit her blood for thyroid testing as soon as possible. If the results come back normal, the test should be repeated at least once a year thereafter, for the rest of your life, to monitor for any downturn in thyroid function. That's because the incidence of hypothyroidism increases with increasing age.

If you do have hypothyroidism, I recommend that you request natural, rather than synthetic, thyroid hormone replacement.

Some good alternatives to synthetic thyroid treatments like Synthroid include Armour Thyroid, Nature-Throid, Bio-Throid, or Thyroid Strong. Also try over the counter supplements first if you show symptoms of hypothyroidism.

Talk to your physician about these alternatives. I also recommend that you follow my comprehensive thyroid program. ■

Thyroid Testing

Make sure your thyroid lab test includes:

► Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels,

► Free (not total) T3 and T4 (thyroid hormone) levels (FT3 and FT4).

If you have subclinical hypothyroidism: Your TSH will be elevated (depending on the lab, normal is between 0.4 and 4.5 mIU/L), and FT3 and FT4 will be normal (FT3: 230-420 pg/ dL; FT4: 0.8-1.5 ng/dL). If you have overt hypothyroidism: Your TSH will be even more elevated, and your FT3 and/or FT4 will be below normal.

And be sure to check with your doctor to see what else can be done for your condition. 

Dr Susan

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About the Author

Best selling author and national speaker Dr. Susan has sold over 2 million books on health & wellness. She has appeared on numerous national and regional radio and television shows and has been featured in hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. She has Served on the clinical faculty of Stanford University School of Medicine and taught in their Division of Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Richards became an ordained Christian minister in 2009 and, within a year, she began doing hospital ministry in the ICU's, critical care and rehabilitation units in the San Francisco area community three times a week. Her ministry is based on the supernatural healing power of God and Jesus Christ and she has seen many miraculous healings of seriously ill patients. The ministry receives over 20,000 prayer requests for healing each week which are answered by their faithful and devoted prayer team. She is currently developing the first Medical and Health Ministry Training Program of Supernatural Healing in the United States. Her medical ministry is at medschoolhealing.com