Read Waisbren Clinic's updated document: Update on Armour Thyroid
Experience with and Opinions about Hypothyroid Disease
Over the years, we have come to some conclusions regarding the diagnosis and management of thyroid disease. They can be summarized as follows: The history and physical exam are the most important factors in the management of thyroid disease; a patient who has unexplained weight gain, difficulty in concentration, dry skin, hair loss, decreased libido, and hypoactive reflexes probably has functional hypothyroidism, regardless of the usual tests. These individuals often have a pasty appearance, subtle diffuse thyroid enlargement, and in the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, their thyroid may be tender. Of course all of these things do not have to be present for one to make a clinical diagnosis but it is surprising how many of them are often present.
Our feelings about thyroid testing are as follows: It is unfortunate that the determination of the basal metabolic rate has fallen by the wayside. In the early days we found this test to be most helpful. Unfortunately, many have replaced this test with a single determination of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). If this test is normal, many rule out the diagnosis of hypothyroidism out of hand. We feel that to investigate the thyroid one must determine the TSH, T3, T4, thyroid autoantibodies, and if the patient is not already on thyroid, a radioactive thyroid uptake scan. Of course, an elevated TSH is often a good indicator of thyroid disease but if it is normal, it often does not rule out this disease.
We have long observed that in some instances, levothyroxine is not the best drug to treat thyroid disease. When levothyroxine is not efficacious; patients often respond to Armour thyroid, Cytomel, or Thyrolar. We and others have found that changing to these drugs often helps patients when levothyroxine does not. We came to this conclusion long before it was publicized by Mary Shomon, a lay author whose books on the subject have become best sellers.
In summary, we suspect and usually treat hypothyroidism when we see a patient with unexplained weight gain, excess fatigue, a feeling of being cold all the time, hair loss, difficulties in concentration and decreased libido. We start with a therapeutic dose of Armour Thyroid, which theoretically may have something in it that is undiscovered that could be helpful. When we find a low T3, we add Cytomel or Thyrolar to the Armour Thryoid. When there are thyroid autoantibodies present, we have found that higher doses than usual doses of Arnour Thyroid, synthetic T4 (levothyroxine), Cytomel (T3) or Thyrolar (both T3 and T4) are necessary to achieve a clinical response. Usually, the first symptom to improve is the lack of mental acuity and an inability to lose weight. The other symptoms mentioned gradually get better and even abnormalities in cholesterol and triglyceride levels may improve. Particularly in Hashimoto’s disease (Autoimmune thyroiditis) we have been surprised at how large doses have to be to obtain clinical response. Above all, we manipulate doses until the patient’s clinical picture improves.
I have been asked to explain why “one size dose does not fit all” in the management of thyroid disease. I do not know but it seems reasonable to hypothesize that clinical hypothyroidism may be the end result of diverse problems. The pituitary gland may not be responding by increasing TSH levels, the thyroid gland may not be able to produce enough T3 and/or T4, the thyroid may not be able to convert T4 to T3, the cells may not be reacting to the usual levels of T3 and/or T4 by increasing their metabolism, or thyroid autoantibodies may be negating T3 and/or T4 activity.
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