Living Well With Graves' Disease and Hyperthyroidism

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Are you one of the more than 3 million Americans suffering with Graves' disease or hyperthyroidism? If you have questions about the diagnosis or treatment of these thyroid problems and their effects on your weight, energy level, heart rate, and more, Mary J. Shomon joined us on July 21, 2005.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Welcome to WebMD Live, Mary. Thank you for joining us today. It seems as though the first hurdle that patients face is getting an accurate diagnosis. Why is that?

The problem is that for thyroid disease the symptoms can be vague and common to many other conditions. When you are looking at everything from fatigue to weight changes to hair loss to depression it's common for a doctor to say you are stressed, depressed or PMSing rather than run the actual tests needed to diagnose a thyroid condition. That's why it's extra important for women to understand their family history, know about the symptoms and to advocate for themselves with their doctor. Symptoms of a thyroid condition depend on what kind of condition that you have.

What are symptoms that would send you to the doctor for a thyroid check?

If you are hypothyroid or have an underactive thyroid the symptoms can include fatigue, weight gain, depression, hair loss, constipation, fertility problems, and dry skin, dry hair, body aches and pains, and numerous other problems that show the body slowing down.

If your problem is hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid you may have anxiety and panic attacks, rapid heart rate, weight loss, difficulty sleeping and insomnia, extreme pain in the legs and arms, a complete lack of menstrual period, hair loss, depression, diarrhea, high blood pressure and other signs of an overactive metabolism.

"Unfortunately, even when we have our thyroid condition treated and we are taking thyroid medications like Levoxyl, we may still be battling the problem of additional weight."

What are the tests that the doctor will perform to check the thyroid?

Typically, the main test most doctors use as a first diagnostic effort is called TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test. TSH is considered the standard blood test by most physicians to evaluate the thyroid. A high THS level is evidence of underactive thyroid, and low THS is evidence of hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid. This can be confusing because sometimes the doctor will tell you that you have a high thyroid, when you actually have a high TSH. Some people misunderstand the terminology so it's important your doctor explain what he or she means when they say your thyroid is high or low and you need to be clear on what your specific level is.

It's important to know that TSH number because in recent years, the lab standards for what is considered normal have changed. It used to be, in the past several years, a level of 0.5 to 5.0 was considered the normal range and now it's 0.3 to 3.0. This is a fairly dramatic difference that many doctors and labs are still not aware of. So, if your TSH is 0.3 or below, you may be hyperthyroid and if your TSH is 3.0 or above, you may be hypothyroid. That's only using the TSH test as the first test.

Other doctors may use an additional battery of tests, known as the thyroid panel, and that includes Free T4, Free T3, and thyroid antibodies to help make a formal diagnosis.

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