Thyroid disease strikes an estimated 20 million Americans. But despite its big health impact, the thyroid is a tiny, often misunderstood gland. In fact, according to Shiri Levy, M.D., an endocrinologist with Henry Ford Health, there are a slew of misconceptions about thyroid disorders.
In some cases, managing a thyroid condition can be challenging; almost like tracking a moving target. In others, a simple prescription controls symptoms. So it’s no surprise that people are confused about how to recognize and treat thyroid disease.
To help clear up the confusion, Dr. Levy sets the record straight about 10 common misconceptions linked with thyroid conditions:
1. Misconception: Every case of thyroid disease requires treatment from an endocrinologist.
Truth: Some cases of thyroid disease are remarkably easy to treat, meaning your primary care doctor can manage your condition. Others may be more complicated and require the care of an endocrinologist (a physician who specializes in the body’s hormonal systems).
2. Misconception: Once you start taking thyroid medication, your symptoms will disappear.
Truth: Unfortunately, it takes time for thyroid levels to normalize. Some people are on medication for months before they begin feeling better.
3. Misconception: People with a thyroid condition will be on medication for life.
Truth: It depends on the cause of your condition. Some women develop thyroid problems during or after pregnancy. Once the body’s hormones level out, the thyroid may correct itself. It’s also true that prescriptions can change throughout the lifespan. For example, people with an underactive thyroid may need more supplemental thyroid hormone during pregnancy.
4. Misconception: If your symptoms aren’t bothersome, it’s okay to skip treatment.
Truth: The thyroid is responsible for many critical bodily functions. Failing to treat even a mild case of thyroid disease can lead to significant health problems like heart disease, osteoporosis and infertility.
5. Misconception: Thyroid disorders only affect women.
Truth: While thyroid disease is far more likely to affect women than men, about 2 out of every 10 cases are men. Their most common symptoms: weight changes, fatigue, anxiety, depression and hair loss.
6. Misconception: Thyroid conditions strike in mid- to late life.
Truth: Thyroid conditions can arise at any age. And while it’s true that an underactive thyroid usually hits after age 50, hyperthyroidism (or an overactive thyroid) is most common when people between ages 20 and 40.
7. Misconception: People with thyroid disease have to avoid certain vegetables.
Truth: It’s almost unheard of for anyone (thyroid condition or not) to have a bad reaction to so-called “goitrogenic foods.” Instead, vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and spinach are loaded with powerful disease-fighting nutrients that may help protect and nourish your thyroid (along with other organs and glands).
8. Misconception: Over-the-counter supplements are a safe way to address thyroid disorders.
Truth: Some of these supplements are made with pig or cow thyroid hormone, substances that aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There’s no oversight for these products and little knowledge about their long-term impact on the thyroid (or other organs and systems).
9. Misconception: Supplemental iodine can correct an underactive thyroid.
Truth: At least in the United States, iodine is already in the soil where farmers grow fruits and vegetables. So it’s very rare for someone to be iodine deficient. Plus, if you have a sluggish thyroid, your body won’t be able to use the iodine to make thyroid hormone since it’s already tapped out.
10. Misconception: If you have a thyroid condition, you’d know it.
Truth: Symptoms of both an underactive thyroid and a hyperactive thyroid are vague and easy to ignore. In fact, up to 60% of Americans with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.
Think you might have a thyroid disorder? Ask your doctor to check your thyroid levels, especially if you’ve noticed changes in bowel habits, sleep patterns or body weight. Even mild anxiety or depression could be a sign of thyroid disease. One simple blood test can uncover the reason behind these symptoms.
Learn more about endocrinology services at Henry Ford.
To make an appointment with a doctor, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7036).
Dr. Shiri Levy is a board-certified physician who specializes in managing disorders of the thyroid, parathyroid, pituitary, and adrenal glands, lipids, osteoporosis and diabetes. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in Novi and Detroit, and is the service chief of endocrinology at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.