Sunday 25 January 2015

Real Life: Thyroid tyranny

Even though her doctor had diagnosed a thyroid problem, and she was undergoing treatment for it, this writer still couldn't understand why she wasn't getting better

Exhausted: When Sarah finally got to the bottom of things she discovered that her adrenal glands were worn out. PHOTO: DAVID MCHUGH

I sat across from my GP and prayed that the latest round of tests had found a cause of my symptoms but he told me they showed nothing. Like many thousands of others in Ireland I'd been suffering from hypothyroidism for years, a condition that arises from an underactive thyroid gland, found in the neck.

This gland releases hormones into the blood stream which regulate metabolism and cell regeneration. It is vital for good health and when it is underactive it causes depression, weight gain, coldness, brittle hair and nails, among other problems.

When overactive it is called hyperthyroidism and this causes nervousness, anxiety, and weight loss.

What I found strange was that despite being prescribed the recommended treatment, a drug called levothyroxine, I still had all the symptoms of hypothyroidism.

I've since learnt that many thousands of people feel the same way and still others have symptoms of hypothyroidism but blood tests that are normal and so they are left untreated. Now some doctors may have the solution as to why.

In my case I'd been exhausted, depressed, cold and miserable for weeks. I'd gone from an active, outgoing, vivacious person to living like a little old lady barely able to leave the house and surviving by napping every few hours throughout the day.


The coldness was unbelievable. I would lie under a pile of blankets covered in jumpers with hands and feet like icicles. The depression made everything difficult. Laundry went unwashed for weeks, I couldn't face it. Dinner most nights was a take-away. I didn't see my friends, I couldn't.

I could barely face another day and after months of doing very little but lying on the sofa with nothing to say to my husband when he came in from work, I started to think he would be better off without me.

Luckily I then found Thyroid UK, a website that has been awarded the Information Standard certificate, meaning their information is accredited with being up to date, with all statements backed up with properly sourced and referenced research. It was set up by Lyn Mynott in order to raise awareness of the problems relating to using blood tests to diagnose thyroid disorders.

Lyn explains what could be going wrong.

"Conventional testing for hypothyroidism measures the TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) in the blood. If you fall outside the normal range you will be offered treatment. However, what is normal for one person might not be normal for another and as most patients were not tested when they were well, doctors cannot know what is normal for them.

"Furthermore, patients should be offered a full range of tests which measure the T4s, T3s and thyroid antibodies. T4 is the actual thyroid hormone -- it is converted in the cells into T3.

"Most GPs don't go any further than a standard TSH test. If it's normal they send patients away or prescribe anti-depressants."


There is growing support for the views of Thyroid UK and these doctors, such as Peatfield, Skinner, Myhill and Hyams, all of whom have clashed with the General Medical Council in the UK. Yet they have massive support from patients, who claim they would not have recovered without their more unconventional approach.

As my GP could do nothing but offer anti-depressants, I sought help privately from one of the expert thyroid doctors recommended by Thyroid UK. Despite Dr Peatfield's trouble with the General Medical Council, his diary is bulging with patients eager for a cure and I had to wait two months before I could get an appointment.

Irish Independent

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