8 Myths Concerning Thyroid Disease Debunked

Thyroid Disease Myths About Weight Gain, Weight Loss, and Bulging Eyes

Human thyroid cancer, illustration
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With respect to thyroid illness, myths and misconceptions abound. Here are 8 of these myths debunked.

Myth 1: Only Older Women Develop Thyroid Problems

While a woman by the age of 60 has a 1 in 5 chance of developing a thyroid problem, they are not the only group of people who develop thyroid conditions or face a higher risk.

Women are in general more vulnerable to thyroid conditions at any age. In particular, the risk of thyroid problems for women is increased during puberty, pregnancy, and the postpartum period. There is also a risk as hormones begin to decline as a result of perimenopause, usually starting in the late thirties. 

Men also develop thyroid conditions, and the risk increases as men get older. 

Thyroid disease can also be seen in newborn congenital hypothyroidism, and in children and adolescents.

Myth 2: Thyroid Disease Is Easy to Diagnose and Easy to Treat

Don't be surprised if you read or hear a common myth propagated by many health care providers: "Thyroid disease is easy to diagnose and easy to treat."

The reality is that many people have a difficult time getting diagnosed with thyroid disease. Vague symptoms, along with disagreement about test result levels and who and when to treat, can make the diagnosis process more complicated.

Even after diagnosis, treatment is rarely "easy." If you are hypothyroid, radioactive iodine or antithyroid drugs for hyperthyroidism may not resolve your symptoms. And being prescribed the so-called easy one pill a day treatment for hypothyroidism can leave you miserable, and still experiencing fatigue, depression, weight gain, and a host of other symptoms.

Many innovative practitioners and millions of patients know that thyroid disease is a complex, multi-faceted condition that requires a variety of approaches to diagnose and resolve.

Myth 3: Everyone With Graves' Disease or Hyperthyroidism Will Get Bulging Eyes

"Bulging eyes" are one symptom of thyroid eye disease, also known as Graves' opthamalopathy. Other common symptoms include dryness, and blurred or double vision.

While thyroid eye disease and its associated symptoms are far more common in Graves' disease and autoimmune hyperthyroidism patients, not everyone who has Graves' will develop the eye-related symptoms. At the same time, a small percentage of Hashimoto's thyroiditis or autoimmune hypothyroidism patients also develop thyroid eye disease. And, having any thyroid problem is not a prerequisite. A very small percentage of people with thyroid eye disease have no active form of thyroid disease.

Myth 4: Hypothyroidism Will Cause Only a Weight Gain of Several Pounds

It's hard to always identify exactly how much weight gain is the direct result of the hypothyroidism. Still, the reduced metabolism, reduced energy for exercise, and other metabolic changes of hypothyroidism often result in significant weight gain or even obesity some people, depending on your metabolism and genetics.

Myth 5: Graves' Disease or Hyperthyroidism Always Causes You to Lose Weight

There's a common belief that hyperthyroidism always causes weight loss. This is because the majority of patients with hyperthyroidism have an increased metabolism, which can cause weight loss, or increased appetite without weight gain.Still, a subset of people with hyperthyroidism actually gain weight while they are hyperthyroid.

Myth 6: If You Have a Thyroid Problem, You Will Develop a Goiter (Enlarged Thyroid)

Goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland, and is a common symptom of hyperthyroidism, and less common in hyperthyroidism. Still, the majority of thyroid patients do not develop a goiter.

Myth 7: A Lump or Nodule in Your Thyroid Means You Have Thyroid Cancer

The most common sign of thyroid cancer is a lump or nodule in your thyroid gland. It's important to know, however, that around 5 percent of thyroid nodules are cancerous. The remainder of the nodules are benign. Various diagnostic procedures including imaging tests and fine needle aspiration biopsy can evaluate whether your nodule or lump is one of the rare cancerous lumps.

Myth 8: You Won't Have Hypothyroidism Symptoms Unless Your TSH Is Significantly Elevated

While some less enlightened practitioners believe that there are no symptoms unless thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is significantly elevated, many patients report significant symptoms at high-normal TSH levels, or at levels in the 4.0 to 10.0 range.

Researchers have also found that not treating even mild or subclinical hypothyroidism in the range under a TSH of 10.0 puts you at risk of a variety of conditions, including heart disease, and high cholesterol.

A Word from Verywell

Ultimately, as a thyroid patient, you will no doubt encounter some health care providers who believe in these myths. Your defense is to be both informed and empowered, so that you can ask pertinent questions, and participate in your health care decisions.


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