Hypothyroidism: A Frequently Missed Diagnosis That Could Be Ruining Your Life

by Sheila Qualls
Originally Published: 
A woman diagnosed with Hypothyroidism talking to her doctor
monkeybusinessimages / iStock

I wasn’t suicidal, but death didn’t sound so bad. What was wrong with me? Tired. Depressed. A 40-pound weight gain in a year.

Something was going on. I requested a copy of my blood work, did some research, then asked my doctor for a referral.

He wasn’t happy.

“Doctors are human too,” he sighed, avoiding eye contact. He scratched out a script for the sixth antidepressant in about four years. He had no problem giving me antidepressants. But a referral? Out of the question. Still, I insisted.

“When a doctor sees you’re on antidepressants,” he continued, “he’s not going to take you seriously. I mean, you’re on an antidepressant. We’re human.” He handed me the script and the referral and left the room.

I was overwhelmed, exhausted. For years, I’d complained of depression; dry, brittle heels; hair loss; weight gain; dry, brittle nails; insomnia; achy joints; and fatigue.

And my doctor had handed me script after script for sleeping pills and antidepressants. His reason for the fatigue: children. His reason for the weight gain: age. If I’d accepted that, I might’ve been dead, divorced, or both by 50. I was that miserable.

He, like so many other doctors, didn’t connect the dots and realize I’d been complaining of common hypothyroidism symptoms. My blood work “said” my hormone levels were “within the normal range,” so my doctor said my thyroid was normal.

I was convinced, even if my doctor wasn’t, my body needed more thyroid hormone than it was putting out. Each of us has a hormone level that’s ideal for us. Just because I was “within the normal range” didn’t mean I was okay. He’d been treating my lab results — not me — for years and didn’t want to give me a referral until I insisted.

Hypothyroidism affects millions of people worldwide, mostly women. And yet it’s one of the most unrecognized and misdiagnosed problems in the world.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits below your Adam’s apple, about 8 inches below your nose. According to the American Thyroid Association, when your thyroid hormone levels are too low, you can suffer from symptoms that wreak havoc on every aspect of your life.

I took the referral, saw an endocrinologist, and realized my doctor was right. The endocrinologist didn’t take me seriously after I told him I was on an antidepressant.

I had a family history and symptoms, but after I said the A-word, he switched gears and said my symptoms weren’t my thyroid and could be attributed to a lot of things. This is the thing: I was a walking poster child for hypothyroidism.

But he insisted “no self-respecting endocrinologist in the world would prescribe thyroid hormone with your numbers.” He shamed me into going away. I did. My life continued to crumble: my marriage, parenting, relationships. I felt like a failure.

Maybe I was little wacky because I went back to my same primary care doc a few months later complaining of the same symptoms. He was ready for me. Armed with the endocrinologist’s report, he handed me a referral for a psychiatrist, whom he said could prescribe an antipsychotic.

I would’ve reached for his throat if I’d had the energy. Instead, I walked out of the office near tears, doubting myself and feeling defeated.

I eventually found a new doctor. I moped in and started with the usual drone of symptoms. Thank God my hair was falling out. When she moved in to examine me, my hair caught her attention. Short broken-off strands were sprinkled all over the exam table, my shoulders, and my back.

She sent me to a different endocrinologist, who after looking at my lab results, reluctantly (because of my numbers) agreed to try a three-month trial of thyroid hormone.

In three months, my thyroid numbers had inched up to the middle of the range, I felt good and had gotten my groove back. I’d had a treatable condition, which took five years to diagnose because my doctor refused to look outside of the scope of common practices.

Like many, I trusted my doctors without question. It never occurred to me they might not be fully versed in hypothyroidism, its symptoms and causes. Don’t get me wrong: I have the utmost respect for the medical profession. But I’ve learned I’ve got to question my doctors, get second opinions, and most importantly, never give up if I believe I’ve got a legitimate health issue. Doctors are fallible.

After all, they’re human too.

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