According to the American Thyroid Association, one of the biggest issues with thyroid dysfunction is that it’s underdiagnosed and often misinterpreted. Because the symptoms can point to many different diagnoses and a lot of them are in fact unrecognized as reasonable concerns, thyroid dysfunction can go undiagnosed for too long.

In the month of January, however, we can wear a light blue ribbon to signify our stance on the issue. Thyroid Awareness Month is traditionally dedicated to raising awareness so more people can reach out for help and receive the right doses of synthetic hormones that can immensely improve their quality of life.

But in order for this objective to be reached, information about early symptoms to be mindful of and the newest research on thyroid dysfunction should be widely available and well-explained.

And because we believe in empowering people to make better, well-educated decisions about their health, FindMeCure is taking part in Thyroid Awareness Month by spreading the knowledge and going more in-depth than most. Well-educated decisions mean a nuanced approach to health, so this is not your regular ‘13 symptoms of thyroid dysfunction’ article. Instead, let’s take a look at what medical researchers have been working on in recent years.

 

Thyroid nodules – it’s not about the size

 

The lumps that form on the thyroid gland, as common as affecting half the women around age 50, were a source of concern and mixed interpretations of clinical research results for years. Even though the vast majority of nodules are non-cancerous, some of them might be and the question of which ones and how to detect the earliest signs of malignancy was the subjects of various hypotheses.

New findings might ease the minds of a lot of patients. The most common way people detect their nodules is by accident and for the nodule to be perceivable to the touch it has to be of the bigger variety, which is enough to freak out most people and to paint a look of concern on their doctor’s face.

However, new research from the Chicago Medical School on large thyroid nodules concludes that they are no more likely to be malignant than nodules of any different size. The research team reviewed a huge number of studies published before December 2017, later narrowing them down to 35 articles, in search of a trend that would suggest a correlation between size and malignancy. Dr. Cipriani who led the study concludes that size alone is not a risk factor and is not indicative of malignancy.

So, always insist on a thorough examination and don’t assume the worst before you see your results – there are better uses for your emotional energy.

 

Older adults might not benefit from some treatments

 

People over 65 diagnosed with mild thyroid dysfunction or what doctors call subclinical hypothyroidism don’t report significant improvement of their symptoms after taking levothyroxine – the standard treatment for their condition.

A study in more than 700 older adults found out that the medication did not have a significant enough effect on their fatigue and that prescribing the drug might not actually be an evidence-based practice. The researchers involved in the study suggest that the guidelines for the treatment of older adults with subclinical hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) should be updated, while other experts outside the study insist more research is needed with a longer follow-up period.

And while yes, more research is indeed needed, these findings are an indication that patients over 65 should speak out about their experience and expect treatment that’s in accordance with the newest thyroid research and consistently alleviates their symptoms.

 

Hyperthyroidism and breast cancer risk

 

You may know that hyperfunction of the thyroid can lead to cardiovascular problems, but the link between hyperthyroidism and breast cancer is a bit harder to pinpoint. Dr. Weng, a physician at NH Dartmouth Family Medicine Residence at Concord Hospital in New Hampshire, led a study dedicated to evaluating this correlation

He states that the results of his study show a ‘’statistically significant’ increase in the breast cancer risk of hyperthyroidism patients. Two earlier studies suggest the same correlation, so Dr. Wreng cautions that while it might be early for a guidelines update, women who are or have been treated for hyperthyroidism should keep their eyes open for warning signs and be aware of these findings.

What exactly is the link between hyperfunction of the thyroid and breast cancer is still unclear. One possible explanation is that thyroid hormones may mimic the effects of estrogen and create a stimulating environment for the growth of cancer cells. Another explanation rules out causation by suggesting that the mere act of going for regular medical check-ups might lead to other irregularities being more easily detected.

More research is needed to explain these findings but we’d rather caution you to stay aware of them and regularly monitor your health.    

 

Overtreating hypothyroidism has its risks

 

Hypofunction of the thyroid gland means that the level of thyroid hormones produced is insufficient for the optimal functioning of the body. Supplementation is generally effective if there are no complications and the right dose is eventually found.

However, new research from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute suggests that the ‘optimal’ range of thyroid hormones might be overestimated by medical professionals and this can lead to overtreating hypothyroidism.

Researchers found a link between taking more medication than the patient actually needs and a condition of irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, which can often lead to stroke. This is not to say that doctors purposefully or unwittingly prescribe higher doses of thyroid hormones, but instead that people are often treated at the higher end of the range due to a misconception about how much of the medication is really needed. Dr. Anderson who led the study believes that the optimal range of thyroid hormones should be reconsidered.

So, as a word of advice, take notice of how you feel as a result of your treatment. You might recognize some signs of higher levels of the thyroid hormone and if you do, talk to your doctor about adjusting the dose of your medication.   

Research in recent years has been fine-tuning thyroid treatment and looking for ways to improve people’s lives by providing better health solutions. If you’d like to take part in what the medical world is doing in the field of thyroid conditions, you can search for clinical trials to join and become one of those ‘’xxx participants’ cited in medical journals that helped make a shift in the way thyroid conditions are approached. And you can get access to the most innovative treatments in development, the type of study to enroll into is completely up to you.   

2 Comments

  1. Just wanted to comment and say that the point you made – that some adults do not benefit from some treatments – is very true to say the least. The common practice of just subscribing levothyroxine or synthroid seems to be what most doctors are doing. But the patient does not always benefit from this and may need to switch to other medications such as T3 or NDT. Others include thyroid supplements as well. Regardless, even though synthroid is the most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, its not unusual that patients do not feel much better when taking it compared to other thyroid medications.

    • Thank you for your insightful message as to switching from the conventional treatment of Hypothyroidism with Synthroid or levothyroxine to a NDT or T3 for those of us who aren’t feeling better. Why are the majority of endocrinologists prescribing these 2 major pharmaceutical medications, in spite of the fact that the patient is not responding well to them?
      I personally am having a hard time finding an endocrinologist who’s open-minded about natural treatments rather than pharmaceutical medications. Does this occur throughout our country? It seems that other countries are more open-minded about medical healthcare. I feel it all points to the pharmaceutical industry which seems to be involved in our medical healthcare system from the educational institutions to the running of our FDA.
      I sure hope our future healthcare system changes for the betterment of all our citizens, including myself!

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