Thyroid Rage: Why I Fired My Doctor and Took My Health Into My Own Hands
I made an appointment with the doctor last fall, because I was worried about unexplained weight loss, mild depression, and several other minor symptoms. When I visited with the doctor, I made it clear that it is important to me to find a natural treatment plan, if at all possible. Not only did I want to avoid traditional depression medication, but if I did have any abnormalities in my blood work, I wanted to research natural remedies before starting any conventional plan.
Because my mom had her thyroid killed with radiation due to a diagnosis of Graves’ Disease, we suspected there might be something going on with my thyroid. The doctor (well, actually it was the physician’s assistant I saw that day) ordered blood work, and I assumed she would order tests that would aid in diagnosing a thyroid problem.
I made two mistakes there: one in not doing my research before making my appointment; two in assuming the doctor would order the correct tests. The only related level she checked was TSH, or Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. “The TSH — Thyroid Stimulating Hormone — blood test is considered by some physicians to be the only test needed to diagnose and manage an underactive or overactive thyroid — also known as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.”1
TSH is a hormone made by your pituitary gland. Your pituitary gland monitors the level of thyroid hormone in your bloodstream and releases TSH acccordingly (more TSH if it detects too little thyroid hormone, less TSH if it detects too much). Doctors look at the level of TSH in your bloodstream. If there is “too much” TSH (in other words, if your pituitary is overcompensating because your thyroid is underactive), your doctor may make a diagnosis of hypothyroidism. If there is “not enough” TSH (if your pituitary has slowed down because it senses an abundance of thyroid hormone), your doctor may diagnose hyperthyroidism.2
But there are several problems with checking only the TSH level.
First, the range of “normal” varies from doctor to doctor. For example, my doctor told me that my level (.039, I believe) was “low.” But she was likely using the old standard, which said TSH levels should fall between .05 and 5.0. But in 2002 the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommended a new normal, .03 – 3.0. My level would be “normal” according to the revised standard.3 Read more at TSH – Why It’s Useless. Second, many patients report symptoms that are not in line with their diagnosis based only on TSH levels. In other words, patients who are in the “normal” range still report symptoms that reflect an under- or overactive thyroid; or patients who are outside of the normal range are symptom free.4 Third, as mentioned earlier, checking your TSH level does not specifically tell your doctor how your thyroid is functioning, because it is a measurement of the pituitary gland. There are other tests available that measure the levels of hormones your thyroid is producing – now wouldn’t it make more sense to check those in conjunction with TSH? Read Recommended Labwork and Natural Thyroid Treatment to learn more about the other tests you should request, as well as how to interpret the results.
So what did my doctor (or, rather, the physician’s assistant) recommend after the one test result that showed my TSH results were normal according to the standard set more than 10 years ago? Knowing that I had requested that we explore natural treatment options before jumping to medications? She had a nurse call me and let me know that they’d called in a prescription for Synthroid. That was it. No explanation, no patient education about the ramifications of starting on Synthroid. Thankfully, I researched before filling that prescription. And I read something that shocked me:
“Generally, thyroid replacement medication is to be taken for life.”5
So after one arguably inaccurate test that showed results within the range of normal, and knowing I wanted medication as a last resort, she prescribed a drug I would have to take for the rest of my life.
And that’s when I fired my doctor.
I talked to friends locally who had also had thyroid tests run by doctors who knew what they were doing. I made an appointment with a new doctor, discussed what tests I wanted ordered, and got new blood work done. She also ordered an ultrasound of my thyroid.
From the multiple (and more accurate) tests she ordered to determine my thyroid’s functioning, my doctor determined that my thyroid was working just fine, thank you very much. No life-long medications needed.
But she also saw several nodules – most benign, one questionable. “Thyroid nodules may produce excess amounts of thyroid hormone causing hyperthyroidism,” which is likely what is happening with me.6 My doctor ordered a CT scan to find out whether the nodules in and around my thyroid are cancerous.
As of the time of this writing, I’m still waiting on the CT scan results and on a follow-up with my doctor to discuss treatment. But at least I feel more confident, having done my research and finding a doctor who would listen to me.
Have you been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder?
Do you take medication, and if so, does it relieve your symptoms?
Have you successfully treated your thyroid disorder naturally – without drugs or radiation?
What websites or groups would you recommend for people researching thyroid disorders?
Here are several resources I have found valuable in my own research:
Here are resources my readers recommend:
Practical Paleo has a chapter on thyroid
Thyroid photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Pills photo credit: me and the sysop
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"Thyroid Rage: Why I Fired My Doctor and Took My Health Into My Own Hands"
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