Often, patients who have had a conventional thyroid test have been told that everything is fine. They know better. The symptoms of low thyroid function seem to be ubiquitously suffered, especially by middle aged women. A week doesn’t go by that we are not asked by one of our patients to look into their thyroid function.
There is another group of patients that come to us for help. They’re the people who are already taking thyroid medication but are convinced it isn’t working for them. Even though their blood tests suggest that it should be working, their bodies are telling them otherwise.
If you’re one of those people, it turns out you might be right.
The Problem with Thyroid Meds
The thyroid, a butterfly shaped gland in our necks, secretes thyroid hormone. This hormone is a big player, acting on almost every cell in your body, and it exists in a few different forms. The most common is T4, or thyroxine. This form of the hormone is not active. Instead, it’s the responsibility of our cells to use iodine and CONVERT this T4 to T3, or triiodothyronine, which is the active form of the hormone.
When patients are diagnosed with low thyroid function, they are given a drug form of T4. Levothyroxine is the most common, also known as Synthroid or Eltroxin. The assumption is that the patient taking this drug will convert it to T3, the cells will be happy, and all will be well.
What this piece of research tells us is that is not always the case. In fact, more than 20% of patients may not be converting to the active form of the hormone effectively.
Looking in All the Wrong Places
The real problem here is less that patients aren’t converting their medication, but that we are not doing the right tests to notice.
When these “non-converting” patients go to the doctor to complain about their thyroid symptoms, a thyroid test is done and it will almost always come back normal. That test, however, is measuring TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone….which is not a thyroid hormone at all.
The level of TSH in the blood is dependent on the level of T4, NOT on the conversion of T4 to T3. That means that TSH and T4 levels in the blood can appear normal, even in a person who is NOT converting properly.
Remember it is the CONVERSION that allows the symptoms of low thyroid to be corrected by medication. If you’re not converting, the medication may not work.
So how do you know if your thyroid is working? Test the WHOLE picture. Work with a health professional who understands this relationship and can help your medication work better for you!
For information on thyroid and other testing, contact the clinic at 705-444-5331, or book an appointment online.