Top 3 Things You Should Know About Thyroid Doctors

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Working with the right doctor is a crucial part of living well with thyroid disease. But finding a comfortable, trusting doctor-patient relationship can be challenging, both logistically and emotionally.

Here are three things to know about thyroid doctors. This way, you can begin your search for that healing partnership feeling up to speed and empowered.

1. You May Not Need to See an Endocrinologist

The process of deciding what type of doctor to see for your thyroid diagnosis and care can be complicated and even daunting. In some cases, the initial suspicion, diagnosis, or treatment of a thyroid condition may be made by your primary care doctor, internist or family practice physician, who may suggest that you don't need any specialist follow-up. This is not unreasonable, either, as many primary care doctors are experienced and comfortable managing certain thyroid diseases, such as autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto's thyroiditis).

Don't be surprised, though, if your doctor does refer you to an endocrinologist, a doctor who focuses his or her care on the endocrine system, including the thyroid, based on your symptoms and lab results.

You may need to see an endocrinologist just once, for confirmation of a diagnosis, or, in the case of Graves' disease or thyroid nodules, possibly multiple times for follow-up. Other conditions that warrant a visit to the endocrinologist include:

  • Presence of a goiter (thyroid enlargement)
  • Thyroid disease while pregnant or in women planning on conceiving
  • If a problem with your pituitary gland is the cause behind the thyroid disease
  • Unusual causes of thyroid disease (for example, medication-induced hypothyroidism)
  • Heart disease along with a thyroid problem
  • People with hypothyroidism, in which it has proven difficult to render and maintain a normal thyroid state

2. There is a shortage of endocrinologists in the U.S.

Unfortunately, it may be tricky finding an endocrinologist promptly, considering there is a shortage, which can make the wait time to get in long, sometimes months. If this is the case, talk with your primary care physician (PCP) about helping to speed up the referral. You may also consider looking at the thyroid specialist website, provided by the American Thyroid Association, to see if there is another endocrinologist available.

3. It's OK to seek a second opinion or switch doctors

The decision to find a new doctor or reach out for a second opinion can be difficult. Your relationship with a doctor is an intensely personal one, and it's not easy to find the right match, particularly when you may be limited by geography, insurance, or finances.

You may find that you feel a bit intimidated by your physician, or once you are working with a particular doctor, you may feel you don't have the right to switch, or worry that you might offend your doctor. It's key to remember that reaching out for a second opinion and/or switching doctors, whatever your underlying reason is behind it, is perfectly reasonable. Remember, your thyroid health is a major part of your life, so you get to choose who helps manage it.

Doctor Interpretation

The majority of doctors are not at all offended by you seeking out a second opinion. Sometimes, it is that fresh opinion or that new set of eyes that sparks a modified treatment plan. For example, in the case of treating hypothyroidism, different doctors may target different TSH values based on factors like age, symptoms, and medical history. They may even begin treating some patients sooner than others, for example, if their TSH is "borderline."

The bottom line is that treating thyroid disease is not necessarily straightforward—it can be complex, as guidelines leave room for clinical interpretation.

Doctor Subspecialty

Lastly, keep in mind, even specialists, like endocrinologists, tend to sub-specialize. So your doctor may tend to see patients with other endocrine disorders, like diabetes or osteoporosis. He or she may not have as much experience working with patients with thyroid disease or cancer.

With that, seeing an endocrinologist with ample experience treating thyroid disease may be especially beneficial if you are experiencing persistent thyroid symptoms or have a complicated thyroid issue like a suspicious nodule or unusual thyroid function blood test results.

A Word from Verywell

With a chronic condition like thyroid disease, the doctor-patient relationship is crucial for the optimization of your thyroid care. Once you have established care with a thyroid doctor, continue asking questions about your care and following up with your doctor as advised—a healing, compassionate partnership with your thyroid doctor takes time to build but will be worth it in the end.

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