An untreated thyroid problem such as not adequately treated hypothyroidism (common for those on T4-only medication, Levothyroxine and Synthroid and not feeling better, unfortunately), can lead to a number of health problems. Understanding your symptoms of hypothyroidism and having regular tests to monitor it, will help to prevent any complications. I’m going to explore some known complications below.
Have you ever noticed your neck seems enlarged or been told it ‘sticks out’? Do you struggle to swallow or feel a lump in your throat? You could have an enlarged thyroid gland, also called a goitre, or a nodule/s. It can be slight or very noticeable and is caused when your thyroid over exerts itself. Read more here.
Mental Health Conditions
The symptoms of hypothyroidism can cause, be linked to, or have an effect on our mental health, such as depression and anxiety. I had both. This is linked to the thyroid hormone T3, which many hypothyroid patients do not have a lot of. Read more here.
Inadequately treated hypothyroidism can affect the health of your heart, such as an increase in developing heart disease, and “bad” cholesterol, with high and low blood pressure also said to be linked to thyroid problems. Due to “bad” cholesterol, it can therefore also lead to a hardening of the arteries, which increases your risk of heart attacks and strokes. I had high blood pressure before my thyroid was properly treated. Read more here and here.
If left a long time without treatment, on treatment not best for you, or been through any chronic emotional, mental or biological stress of any kind, then your adrenal glands may have been working hard to keep you going during this time/s, and now be suffering for it. I have this due to being inadequately treated for so long, but also due to major life events causing chronic stress and anxiety. Read more here.
Also known as low blood sugar, it is linked to adrenal fatigue, so having adrenal fatigue increases your chances of having this. I have this condition too. Dr Wilson’s book is very helpful about this topic, as well as adrenal fatigue. When your blood sugar levels drop below normal, your adrenal glands respond by secreting cortisol.
This is a loss of brain function as a result of longstanding, severely low level of thyroid hormones. It is considered a life-threatening complication of hypothyroidism but very, very rare these days.
Although many thyroid patients are told they also have fibromyalgia, and it is a separate condition to their thyroid problems, and although it can be, it’s often actually a symptom of a poorly treated thyroid condition. Dr Barry Durrant-Peatfield covers this in his book. Patients often say that once they were able to get out of their hypothyroid state, going by a full thyroid panel, and not just TSH, their fibromyalgia improved or went away altogether.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME
Another one I have been diagnosed with, but it’s now ‘gone’. A diagnosis often given to patients when they complain about always being horrendously tired, no matter what they do. This is a key sign of hypothyroidism not optimally treated, and once your blood results (a full thyroid panel) read correctly, and you have optimal iron, ferritin, B12 and Vit D, etc. it may well just go away or improve a lot. It did for me. More info here and here. Dr Barry Durranr-Peatfield also covers it in his book.
And another one I’ve had, is regular acid reflux. Gut problems linked to hypothyroidism can also include GERD/GORD and low levels of stomach acid. The right amount of acid will help stop things like acid reflux. If you get symptoms of heart burn, acid on your chest or at the back of your mouth, explore these conditions. You need to be careful though, as most medicine given for these conditions can badly interact with Levothyroxine (and other T4-only meds). The best thing to do first is get as many of these tests done to rule out your thyroid being linked to it. Talk to a doctor to explore other causes.
Particularly interesting and quite scary, is Alzheimer’s Disease being connected to your thyroid levels. Taken from Hypothyroid Mom: Women with TSH below 1.0 and those with a TSH above 2.1 had a greater than two-fold higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
The recommended range for TSH, used by a lot of doctors and promoted by several sources, is 0.5 to 5 and according to the evidence above, patients below 1 or above 2.1 are twice as more at risk. So this includes a lot of patients on the 0.5-5 scale used by doctors.
This includes a lot of patients who are left to reach 10 before being given medication for their thyroid problem, doctors who say a patient with a TSH of 6.5 for example is OK, and those self-medicating, who could possibility be taking too much or not enough thyroid hormone, taking their TSH below 0.5 or above 2.1 for example, are particularly at risk. Read more here.
I am not implying you’ll get/have any or all of the above, but it’s definitely worth keeping in mind. It’s good to know, certainly.
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I also run a group for the spouses, partners and other halves of hypothyroid patients, called Hypothyroid Patients Other Halves – Support & Advice Group. This is for the other halves only and not patients.