TMH Living Well: Tired? Cold? Low Energy? Could be hypothyroidism
January 24, 2015
In honor of National Thyroid Awareness Month, take a minute to consider how a low-functioning thyroid can affect you. Hypothyroidism creates several vague symptoms that may go unnoticed. While it can occur at any age, hypothyroidism is much more common in women, especially those over the age of 50.
"Your thyroid is the thermostat of your body. It controls energy, metabolism, mood, digestive function and temperature," said Dr. Elise Sullivan, a family medicine physician with TMH Medical Clinic.
If you have extra dry skin, often feel cold, tired or constipated, have trouble remembering things, feel depressed, experience muscle cramps, have heavy or painful periods, weight gain or discharge from your breast, it might be hypothyroidism.
"It can be hard to pinpoint and it's not something we test for regularly at annual exams, so if you have even one or two symptoms, ask to be tested," Sullivan said.
The test is a simple blood test that looks at the level of two hormones — TS3 and TS4.
"We look at the opposite of what you'd think, meaning a high TSH means you have low thyroid, and a low TSH means you have too much thyroid. We confirm with a test that measures free T4 levels and sometimes consider testing free T3 hormone levels as well," she said.
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Some people have full-blown hypothyroidism caused by an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto's Disease. Much more common is hypothyroidism due to a thyroid glad that stops producing enough hormones.
"We don't really know why the thyroid sometimes stops producing enough hormone, but it is five to eight times more common in older women. From my perspective, it can occur at any age. I see women in there 20s with hypothyroidism. Men can have it, too," Sullivan said.
Some factors increase your risk for hypothyroidism. One is diabetes. Another is having any type of autoimmune disease. A third is having had radiation to your chest or neck, or taking radioactive iodine.
"High cholesterol can be associated with low thyroid," Sullivan added.
If you have hypothyroidism it's important to get tested because left unchecked it can have serious consequences. According to the Mayo Clinic, untreated hypothyroidism can increase the risk of heart disease, mental health issues, nerve damage in your limbs, infertility and more.
The treatment for hypothyroidism is a daily dose of synthetic hormone. It can take some time to get the right medication and right dose, but generally people feel better within a few weeks of starting treatment.
"It's important to come back six weeks after starting treatment or switching brands to make sure it's working properly. The wrong dose can contribute to falls in the elderly and too much thyroid medicine can cause heart palpitations or heart failure, so it is important to be precise," Sullivan said.
She also recommends taking the medicine on an empty stomach — 30 minutes before eating or two hours after a meal. Otherwise it might not be absorbed well and become ineffective.
"Even coffee or a multivitamin can inhibit its absorption," she stated.
As a final note, Sullivan warns people to avoid self-treatment as it can do more harm than good. Hormones are tricky to get right, so it's best to leave it to the expert — your doctor. If you've been feeling especially tired of late or seem to be extra bothered by the cold, it could be your thyroid. See your doctor and get it checked.
If you need a doctor, TMH Medical Clinic is accepting new patients. The Family Medicine team includes Dr. Elise Sullivan, Dr. Jon Hamilton, Maggie Anderson, PC and Neilene Folks, PA. They can be reached at 970-826-2400.
This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.