It’s the tiny gland that packs a punch. Despite the thyroid gland’s importance to every physical function, and the prevalence of thyroid disease — more than 20 million Americans have a thyroid condition — it’s an area ripe for myths and misinformation. Let’s look at 13 common myths about thyroid disease and thyroid treatment.
Only women get thyroid disease
One of the common myths about thyroid disease is that it only affects women — especially middle-aged or older women. Not true! While thyroid disease is 5 to 8 times more common in women, it also strikes men, especially as they get older. And infants, children, and teenagers of both genders can also have thyroid conditions.
Your doctor evaluates your thyroid in a typical physical exam
Have you ever said: “If I had a thyroid problem, my doctor would tell me?” If you have an annual physical, it’s likely that your doctor never examines your thyroid. (He or she would need to feel your neck for lumps or enlargement.) What about that standard bloodwork your doctor runs? It typically doesn’t include a thyroid panel unless your doctor requests it. When it comes to your thyroid, don’t assume that no news is good news.
Thyroid disease is easy to diagnose
One of the most often-repeated myths is that “thyroid disease is easy to diagnose.” Millions of thyroid patients beg to differ. With sometimes vague symptoms like fatigue and weight gain, thyroid disease is frequently overlooked, or misdiagnosed as depression or menopause. Then there’s the controversy of how to diagnose thyroid problems. Some doctors disagree with the standard “reference range” for blood test results, leaving millions of potential thyroid patients undiagnosed.
Thyroid disease is easy to treat
Along with “easy to diagnose,” the idea that “thyroid disease is easy to treat” is another popular myth. Let’s be clear: In some cases, the standard treatment for hypothyroidism — a levothyroxine drug like Synthroid — will quickly resolve your symptoms. Easy, right? Still, many people with an underactive thyroid have unresolved symptoms despite treatment. These patients require a careful, sometimes time-consuming — and not easy — trial-and-error process to get optimal treatment.
Everyone with Graves’ disease needs radioactive iodine (RAI)
In the United States, doctors often present radioactive iodine (RAI) as the first-line treatment for Graves’ disease and hyperthyroidism. Outside the United States, antithyroid drugs — which offer the possibility of remission — are the first-line treatment. This “rush to RAI” is often premature and overlooks the fact that some Graves’/hyperthyroid patients can achieve remission, or manage their conditions for decades with antithyroid drug treatment.
Everyone with thyroid cancer needs thyroid surgery
In the past, any positive diagnosis of thyroid cancer was followed by surgery — known as thyroidectomy — to remove the thyroid gland. Now, researchers are looking at the size and type of thyroid cancer, and the age and prognosis of the patient. Increasingly, thyroid cancer experts are recommending “active surveillance” — also known as watchful waiting — for small, slow-growing papillary thyroid cancer.