Why must it take so long? We hear many stories about individuals that suffer from hypothyroid symptoms, but don’t get a diagnosis or are misdiagnosed until they are so bad off that it has completely altered their state of living. An article posted in The New York Times in 2003 stated that the author was falling asleep at his desk, forgetting where to catch the bus that he rode every day, and even “trailing off” midsentence with his boss. The author was “lucky” because he states the symptoms came on relatively fast for him (a few weeks). Thankfully he received the right diagnosis and was able to start his road to recovery by taking the thyroid medication prescribed.
We are happy to hear when people get the right diagnosis and treatment to help them, but why does it have to take so long? This has to do with the testing used to diagnose a thyroid condition. The author of the post stated that they used the well-known TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test, but it seems that his symptoms were so bad that it actually showed on the test. What happens when your symptoms aren’t like this? What if they progress slowly? How much time are you wasting with doctors that use this standard test that doesn’t really show much about the function of the thyroid?
The TSH became common practice and the standard test in 1973. Practitioners have been using this test since and unfortunately, this has led to physicians treating patients more like lab results than actual people with horrible symptoms. Dr. Derry in an interview with Mary Shomon states, “What I found was many people would develop classic signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism but the TSH was ever so slow to become abnormal, rise and confirm the clinical diagnosis. Sometimes it never did.” Unfortunately, not many doctors thought like Dr. Derry. Instead they waited (and still do) until the TSH level rose while the patient’s health continued to decline.
This happens because the TSH test doesn’t test actual thyroid levels. Yes, you read that right. The test most doctors are using to diagnose a thyroid problem doesn’t actually test the thyroid. The TSH test analyzes the levels from the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland sends out this TSH to tell the thyroid to work harder, but there are other things that should be checked. Sometimes it’s a conversion problem from an inactive to an active thyroid hormone (something the TSH test wouldn’t pick up on).
The standard tests to properly diagnose thyroid dysfunction should consist of 1) Free T3 2) Free T4 3) Reverse T3 4) TSH 5) Antithyroglobulin and should be used in combination with a clinical assessment. It is also suggested to do a reflex speed test and a basal metabolic rate. Don’t suffer for a long time with debilitating symptoms that just continue to get worse and worse! Talk to your doctor about doing these tests for you if you are not feeling well and experiencing the symptoms of hypothyroidism.