A Simple Guide to Thyroid Disorders
WIRED? TIRED? IT COULD BE YOUR THYROID!
One in 10 Americans Suffers from a Thyroid Disorder
Approximately 8 Million Are Undiagnosed
It's a story that's repeated on regular basis. Dr. Scott Isaacs
tells of patients that were always categorized as "high
energy" people. They were active, ran daily and were always
the one's to say, "Go, go, go." Then things started to change.
Gradually, and symptoms were attributed to ongoing lifestyle
changes. As time went on these patients admitted that they
felt really, really horrible. Hands and feet were always cold.
Hair was dry and falling out. Periods were much heavier, and
they had so little energy that just getting up the stairs was a
major effort. These people literally thought they were dying!
They were not dying. They were diagnosed as
hypothyroid-where the thyroid gland was under active,
producing too little thyroid hormone or hyperthyroid-where
the thyroid gland was on fast forward, producing too much
It's estimated that 20 million Americans are currently under
treatment for thyroid disorders. However, another 8 million
are undiagnosed. Why do so many people go undiagnosed?
"Often the symptoms of thyroid disease-such as weight gain
or fatigue-come on gradually, and people think they're just
feeling tired or that they're just getting older," according to
Dr. Scott Isaacs, an Atlanta endocrinologist and author of the
new book, A Simple Guide to Thyroid Disorders-From
Diagnosis to Treatment. Other common symptoms include
nervousness, irritability, and sleeplessness. "After diabetes,
thyroid disease is the most common glandular disorder, but
most people do not realize that the thyroid hormone affects
virtually every cell in the body; consequently, symptoms from
thyroid disease can be incredibly diverse and troublesome."
Dr. Isaacs says that, "up to 20% of all chronic depression
cases stem from low production of thyroid hormone, yet many
patients who are treated for depression do not get thyroid
tests. Countless other cases are missed because their
symptoms such as rapid heartbeats and nervousness are
erroneously attributed to anxiety disorders. Some women go
from doctor to doctor and therapist to therapist for months or
years complaining of irritability, heart palpitations, difficulty
concentrating, even memory problems before they finally get
The statistics for women are staggering. Women are four
times as likely as men to develop thyroid disease, probably
because, for unknown reasons, they are more prone to the
immune system malfunction that underlies the vast majority of
cases. Essentially, the immune system fails to recognize the
thyroid gland as part of the body, and sends forth antibodies
to attack the thyroid cells.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the
base of the neck on either side of the trachea (windpipe).
Although its duties are simple, its effects are profound. The
gland extracts iodine from blood to produce two
hormones-thyroxine and triiodothyronine--that control the
metabolic function of virtually every cell and organ in the body.
Hypothyroidism is twice as prevalent as hyperthyroidism. The
most common form of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune
disorder called Hashimoto's disease, named for the Japanese
surgeon who first recognized it in 1912.
Although Hashimoto's disease is usually the cause of
hypothyroidism, between 5% and 8% of women develop it
soon after giving birth. Other causes include radiation therapy
to the head and neck, pituitary tumors or certain drugs, and
even treatment for hyperthyroidism can cause its obverse,
hypothyroidism. Whatever the cause, an underactive thyroid
leaves the body running in slow motion. Symptoms include
fatigue, weight gain, feeling cold and a sense that
concentration and memory are not as sharp as they used to
be. In time symptoms become more pronounced: dry skin and
brittle nails, constipation, muscle aches or cramps, slow heart
rate and, in women, longer menstrual periods with heavier
flow. Because ovulation is irregular, untreated women may
have trouble getting pregnant and have a higher than normal
rate of miscarriage and premature delivery.
As for overactive glands, the main cause of hyperthyroidism is
another autoimmune disorder, called Graves' disease, in
honor of the 19th century Irish physician who described it. It's
Graves' disease that both George and Barbara Bush
The symptoms are the flip side of hypothyroidism:
nervousness and irritability, feeling hot, softening of the nails,
hair loss, muscle weakness, rapid heartbeat, more frequent
bowel movements, shorter menstrual periods with lighter flow
and weight loss despite eating as usual (Barbara Bush lost 18
pounds in the two months before her Graves' disease was
diagnosed). Although some people with Graves' disease feel
supercharged and "wired," they may also feel weak and
wiped out, and the heart pounding can be very scary.
The good news is that thyroid disorders are treatable.
According to Dr. Isaacs, "Most people don't realize that most
forms of thyroid disease can be completely managed with
proper treatment; however, many patients suffer needlessly
because they don't get an accurate diagnosis. As an
endocrinologist, I see many patients who have seen other
physicians but are still suffering with thyroid problems. Often,
a simple medication adjustment makes the symptoms go
Why did Dr. Isaacs write A Simple Guide to Thyroid Disorders?
"Thyroid patients, in particular, have a hunger for information.
This book helps patients understand how thyroid disorders
are diagnosed, the various treatment options, and what to do
if a symptom lingers despite treatment with standard