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What Not to Say to Thyroid Patients


Updated May 20, 2011

What Not to Say to Thyroid Patients

When you're talking to thyroid patients, there are some things you definitely should NOT say.

OK, so your friend, family member, loved one, or coworker has a thyroid problem. You may be the model friend of family member, in which case, you're offering sympathy, support, compassion, and concern. What? you're not quite on board? In that case, it's time to read the When Your Family Member or Friend Has Thyroid Disease: An Open Letter to the Family and Friends of Thyroid Patients.

Meanwhile, even if you're not sure how to proceed or what you should say, there are some things you definitely, absolutely, should NOT say, under ANY circumstances. I asked the thyroid support group members at Facebook to share some of their thoughts, as the people who have been there, done that, and know what is not likely to be of help to them in their thyroid journey!

At the same time, being a health care practitioner does not mean that you necessarily know the right thing to say either. Because here's yet another thyroid patient who isn't satisfied with his or her treatment. You've run the tests, you've written the prescriptions, you've heard the complaints -- so what ELSE does the patient expect from you, anyway? Well, what they DON'T expect is to hear some of the classic blow-off lines that practitioners frequently use.

Let's take a look.

Weight Gain, Loss and Diet

No surprise, comments about weight -- noticeable weight gain or weight loss, or the inability to lose weight, seem to be at the top of the list of things that thyroid patients do NOT want to hear. Some of the insensitive or ridiculous comments thyroid patients have heard from their friends, family and coworkers include:
  • Have you put on weight lately?
  • Ah, so THAT is why you have trouble losing weight?
  • Try jogging to take off the extra weight. I've never seen a fat runner.
  • When is your baby due!?
  • Have you tried restricting your caloric intake?
  • I must have Hashimoto's too! (from a size 2 friend who is trying to lose 2 pounds.)
  • You are too thin to have thyroid problems!
  • Are you using meth?
  • You've lost a lot of weight -- do you have cancer?
  • Are you sure you're not anorexic?
  • Do you think I can get on thyroid meds, because I need to lose some weight!
And doctors and practitioners need to be aware that there are some comments that they may be making that aren't especially welcome:
  • Take these thyroid pills and the weight will melt off you.
  • Once we get you started on some medication you'll be losing weight in no time.
  • You're stashing Snickers bars under your bed, aren't you?
  • You have "fork in mouth disease!"
  • Everyone who is overweight blames it on a gland/thyroid problem. And only 2% of the population has thyroid issues. (Note from Mary: that's not a correct statistic, by the way.)

It's Really All Your Fault

Another frustration are the comments that seem to suggest that the struggle to feel well is really the patient's fault, that the thyroid patient is lazy, or that the patient is somehow fundamentally to blame. Here are a few unwelcome comments from friends and family:
  • So-and-so has a thyroid problem and she didn't gain any weight!
  • Why don't you just stop taking medication and heal yourself through nutrition?
  • What's with your eyes, anyway?
  • If you claim you feel that bad, maybe it's because you don't really want to feel better.
  • Since nothing helps, maybe you should see a shrink.
  • Maybe your condition doesn't improve because you think you know better than your endocrinologist.
  • My friend/mother/cousin/co-worker takes Synthroid and is doing GREAT, you know.
  • You sure it's not just in your head?
  • Must be nice to sleep so much.
  • Why are you so tired....you don't have any kids.
The medical establishment seems to get on the "blame patients for their symptoms" bandwagon as well. Patients have heard:
  • You should be able to just stop having those anxious thoughts.
  • Force yourself to get up off the couch and do something.
  • You should try to have a sunny attitude.

Where Is Your Hair?

It's our crowning glory, but hair loss, probably because it's visible, is an issue that draws a lot of comments. Some patients have heard:
  • What's up with your eyebrows?"
  • Haven't you heard about Rogaine?
  • Why don't you just shave your eyebrows the rest of the way off?"
  • What's with your hair? Do you have cancer?
  • Why don't you have your eyebrows tattooed on.
Doctors are not especially sympathetic when it comes to hair loss. Patients have been told:
  • Maybe you're losing hair because you pull your ponytail too tight.
  • You can always get a wig
  • It's just hair, after all.
  • It is not the Synthroid that is causing hair loss, it's your thyroid...yes, I know that it says that a side affect of Synthroid is "hair loss" and that if it becomes a problem to contact your doctor, but it's not the Synthroid.
  • It's not your thyroid. You're losing hair due to stress.

Thyroid: No Big Deal

Many people assume thyroid disease is no big deal at all, and their comments to patients reflect that:
  • Thyroid disease isn't really serious.
  • You don't LOOK like you have a thyroid problem.
  • It's not a big deal. All you have to do is take a pill.
  • Why don't you just have your thyroid removed?
  • I know you have lifelong hypothyroidism and all, but so, like when do you go off the medication?
  • At least it's not cancer.
Doctors and medical practitioners are masters of the "no big deal" comments to thyroid patients. Some of the least helpful comments to patients include:
  • If I had to have something wrong with me I'd pick thyroid.
  • Your TSH is normal, so we've CURED you!
  • If I had a nickel for every time I got a patient who THINKS they have thyroid disease..."
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  5. What Not to Say to Thyroid Patients - Unwelcome, Insensitive, Unhelpful or Unsupportive Things That Friends, Family, Coworkers, Doctors Say

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