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The Many Faces of Thyroid Deficiency
- A young housewife who feels rundown, tires easily, is sleepy much of the time, and strangely oversensitive to cold weather.
- A middle-aged man who has managed to distinguish himself in his career by fighting all his life against his low energy reserve but now has become tired of fighting and convinced there must be some physical explanation for his problem even though none has ever been found and more than once he has been told to consult a psychiatrist and more than once has done so without benefit.
- A victim of severe recurrent headaches.
- A barren couple.
- A child or adult unusually prone to infections, particulary respiratory, but not limited to them.
- A sufferer from severe rheumatic pain and a potential heart attack victim.
- A woman whose skin is abnormally rough, scaly, almost fishlike and patients with other skin problems, including eczema, psoriasis, and acne.
- At least one man or woman in a state of severe mental depression.
- A woman with a menstrual problem -- painful flow, or irregular flow, or sometimes excessive flow that suggests possible need for hysterectomy.
These are a few of the people who will pass through my waiting room on almost any routine day. There is one striking common fact about them: Varied as are their symptoms, the cause of their illness in every case is the same -- low thyroid function.
Of all the sly, subtle problems that can affect physical or mental health, none is more common than thyroid gland disturbance. And none is more readily -- and inexpensively --corrected. Yet none is more often untreated and even unsuspected
In my years of experience, I have seen patients who for much or all of their lives have had health difficulties that should have suggested the possibility of low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) and whose whole lives could have been changed by simple treatment for it. Yet the thyroid disturbance went unsuspected in many and in others, even when briefly suspected, went unverified and untreated. Nor is it difficult to appreciate why this could -- and still does -- happen so often.
Sources of Neglect and Confusion
It's impossible to overemphasize the importance of the thyroid, a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck and weighing less than an ounce. It is the thyroid which controls metabolism -- the process by which food is transformed into energy and many vital chemical changes take place. Minute thyroid secretions, something less than a spoonful a year, are responsible for much of the body's heat production. They help maintain the circulatory system and blood volume. They are necessary for muscle health. They heighten sensitivity of nerves. Every organ, every tissue, every cell is affected by the hormone secretions of the gland.
That severe hypothyroidism can have devastating effects has long been appreciated. A cretin child, born with a grossly defective thyroid gland, will remain a dwarf and become an idiot unless given thyroid to make up for the gland's total or near-total failure to produce secretions.
A severely hypothyroid adult, whose gland produces grossly inadequate amounts of secretions, may have a "moon-shaped" face, coarse features, thick nostrils and lips, slow and thick speech, and suffer from weakness and listlessness to the point of apathy.
Fortunately, extreme hypothyroidism is rare. But mild or moderate hypothyroidism is far from rare. And the results of it can be confusing. There are none of the classic gross changes in physical features that occur with the extreme form. Instead, there can be varied symptoms that may seem, on the surface, far removed from the thyroid.
One of the most common symptoms is fatigue. It can vary from relatively mild to severe. It may come on so slowly that a victim, feeling no sudden, precipitous decline in energy level, may come to accept fatigability as -- for him -- a virtually normal state.
In one case, low thyroid function may give rise to fatigue alone; in another, fatigue may be present but of lesser importance compared with, say, recurrent severe headaches. In other cases, there may be other symptoms, sometimes a whole complex of symptoms. Repeated infections, skin problems, menstrual disturbances of many kinds, memory disturbances, concentration difficulties, depression, paranoid symptoms -- these are just a few of many possible manifestations.
Unless it is recognized that low thyroid function can have many effects which may vary considerably from one victim to another, the possibility that this is where the trouble may lie may never even be considered. In my experience, many patients with problems labeled "psychosomatic" -- and many who have been classified as being hypochondriacs -- are victims of unrecognized hypothyroidism.
Another source of confusion has been the failure of standard thyroid function tests to detect hypothyroidism reliably. The basal metabolism test, for example, one of the very first to be used, checks thyroid function by measuring oxygen consumed when the body is at rest -- doing nothing but sustaining itself. When hypothyroidism is pronounced, the test may pick it up but otherwise may not. There are, as we shall see, good reasons why it is -- virtually has to be -- often inaccurate.
Other tests, such as protein-bound iodine and radioactive iodine uptake, may also not always be dependable, although for a long time they were considered reliable. In fact, The Medical Letter, an independent medical-evaluation bulletin for physicians, recently has warned that many commonly used drugs -- and even shampoo and skin antiseptic compounds -- can upset test results.
A Simple Home Test
Some years ago, seeking a better index of thyroid function, I began to use and still use a simple temperature test. It costs nothing. It requires only an ordinary thermometer. Any patient can self-administer the test at home in ten minutes -- and, in fact, the test is best carried out at home. The test must be done in a certain way but it is a very simple procedure. Details about the test have been published in the medical literature. Not all doctors by any means are using it yet, but more and more are. (Later in this book, you will find specific instructions for carrying out the test if you wish to do so, along with a full explanation of the basis for the test.)Hipothyroidism. Copyright � by Broda Barnes. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.