Hypothyroidism: An Undiagnosed Epidemic

By TJ Williams, DC, PhD

Hypothyroidism, the name for the production of too little thyroid hormone, is a vastly under-diagnosed health problem in this country. Why is it so difficult to diagnose and treat low thyroid function? The main reason is that the symptoms are not very specific and are often present for many reasons besides thyroid disorders.

Look at it this way. Anyone can diagnose a heart attack because we typically see someone who is pale and sweaty and clutching their chest while complaining of crushing pain in the chest and down the left arm.

Thyroid problems are completely different. Even if you have all the symptoms of low thyroid function, they may still easily be ignored. You may not even realize that the problem is with your thyroid gland. Even if you have the foresight to go to the doctor, your doctor may use traditional methods to test for thyroid problems and find that your thyroid appears to be functioning in the normal range.

But many times, doctors don’t do the right tests or don’t do enough tests; hence your thyroid problems go undetected. You may be told you have borderline thyroid problems or subclinical thyroid disease and your doctor will watch it. What will he or she watch for? For you to get really sick?

Thyroid problems are actually extremely common. More than 10% of the overall population and 20% of women over 60 years of age have subclinical hypothyroidism. “Subclinical” implies no symptoms and slightly abnormal thyroid tests. What it really means is subtle symptoms that are often missed by doctors! Even people who have “normal” thyroid results but suffer from symptoms may benefit from thyroid treatment.

It all depends on how we define “normal.” Your gender, height, weight, even your occupation could redefine “normal” and therefore, the range. If you are a seven-foot-tall basketball player, weighing 300 pounds—your “normal” range would be very different from that of a five-foot, three-inch female.

As we continue to learn more about the way our body was meant to work and how evolution (physical and social) continues to change how our bodies are actually working, the normal values in medicine are constantly redefined. We recognize that what we thought was the norm isn’t anymore.

To use just one example, in 1998, the normal weight was a body mass index (BMI) of 27; now it’s 25. We are wising up and recognizing more subtle changes in function can have significant health consequences. The same is true with thyroid disease, but mainstream medicine has not yet caught on. We doctors need to rethink how we approach thyroid problems by:
* Recognizing the problem through analyzing a patient’s medical history;
* Using the right tests;
* Properly diagnosing and treating the causes of thyroid dysfunction;
* Supporting the thyroid function with lifestyle changes, diet, and supplements; and
* Prescribing thyroid hormone replacement therapies and dosages specifically designed for individual patients.

Right now, most people within the medical community are not doing these things. This is why it is crucial to work with a functional medicine doctor if you want to optimize your thyroid function.

If you would like more information regarding any of the treatments, therapies, or services offered at The Institute of Natural Health, please contact us at (314) 293-8123 or visit us at inhstl.com. Dr. TJ Williams is the Clinic Director for the Institute of Natural Health and the host of the radio program Wellness 101, which provides common-sense, science-based strategies for a healthy life. Wellness 101 airs Sundays at 2:00pm on FM NewsTalk 97.1, and can also be found on Apple Podcasts.