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Metabolic Mysteries: Undiagnosed Thyroid Disease and Women

A Look at Undiagnosed Thyroid Problems

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Updated December 16, 2003

It's a common story. After having a baby, you find it unusually difficult to lose the baby weight, despite serious diet or exercise. Or you think you're getting enough sleep, but find yourself waking after eight or more hours of sleep exhausted and then drag around during the day feeling like a nap is the only thing on your mind. Or, conversely, you may find yourself anxious for no apparent reason, losing weight, up all night with insomnia and heart palpitations, and noticing that you're losing hair.

For many of you, the doctor will suggest that these symptoms point to depression, not enough sleep, a need for exercise, premenstrual syndrome, or simply the effects of stress.

The reality is that symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, unexplained weight gain or loss, hair loss, depression, and palpitations may indicate that you have an undiagnosed thyroid condition. A February, 2000 research study found that the estimated number of people with undiagnosed thyroid disease may be 10 percent -- a level that is double current estimates, and may represent as many as 13 million Americans currently undiagnosed. For women, the risk is even higher. A woman faces as high as a one in five chance of developing thyroid problems during her lifetime. That risk increases with age and for those with a family history of thyroid problems.

The thyroid is our body's metabolic engine, controlling use of energy and foods. A small butterfly-shaped gland, the thyroid is located in the neck behind the Adam's apple, and produces key hormones -- triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) -- that fuel metabolism and help our bodies properly use energy and calories.

How do you know if you have hypothyroidism, the most commonly diagnosed thyroid problem? Your symptoms might include depression, forgetfulness, fatigue, weight gain, hoarse voice, high cholesterol levels, constipation, intolerance to cold, coarse hair, hair loss, dry skin, reduced libido, tingling hands and feet, heavy or irregular periods, and infertility or recurrent miscarriage. A careful review of our comprehensive Hypothyroidism Symptoms Checklist can help.

Undiagnosed hypothyroidism is blamed for many conditions and symptoms in women, including: If your doctor suspects hypothyroidism, he or she will order a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test. Most American laboratories have a normal range from around .5 to 5.5. A [link url=http://thyroid.about.com/library/weekly/bltest-values.htm]TSH level above 5.5 or 6 is usually diagnosed as hypothyroid.

More doctors are also viewing high-normal or normal TSH levels as possible evidence of low-level hypothyroidism. Dr. John Dommisse, in an interview with Mary Shomon, has said that that "The so-called 'normal range' is way too high"

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