The Hidden Disease For Many Women: Hypothyroidism

(CBS) — They’re cold, they’re tired, they’re gaining weight.

A hidden illness affects many women. And they may wait years before they get a correct diagnosis.

CBS2’s Erin Kennedy shows you how to find relief.

Vicki Wayne and Anne Downes were two such women.

“Feeling tired all the time is not normal,” Wayne says. “Feeling cold all the time is not normal.”

Downes says was in “a constant state of insomnia and exhaustion.”

“I felt like there was something wrong,” she adds.

Eventually, both she and Wayne were correctly diagnosed with an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism. But the diagnosis came decades after their problems began.

“In that time, I got married, I had my kids,” Wayne says. “So you think: I’m tired because I’ve got two toddlers at home or my life is too stressful.”

The years of misinformation have left lasting impacts on Downes’ health, too. “It could have prevented a lot of things going wrong, like infertility and weight gain,” she says.

Loyola endocrinologist Dr. Sarah Nadeem says many others may still be suffering in silence.

“If you were to look at a group of women, one in eight will actually have some sort of thyroid disease,” she notes.

According to the American Thyroid Association, women are five to eight times more likely than men to have trouble with their thyroid – and 60 percent go undetected.

“The majority of thyroid disease actually is autoimmune,” Nadeem says. “So, basically that means your own body makes cells which will attack the thyroid gland.”

Some women mistake their symptoms for menopause. Signs of hypothyroidism that mimic menopause include:

  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • dry skin
  • hair loss

“It takes, on average, five years in the United States for a woman with an autoimmune disease to actually get a proper diagnosis,” says Dr. Aviva Romm.

In her new book, The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution, she links women’s thyroid troubles to stress, environmental toxins and foods like gluten, dairy, nuts, grains and sugar.

“One of the things I do with my patients that I do in the book is called a ‘reboot,’ and it’s essentially an elimination diet,” she says.

Dr. Nadeem cautions diet is not proven to curb or cure the condition. She recommends tried and true thyroid medications like Synthroid, which Wayne and Downes both take.

“Once you start getting the medicine and you start feeling better it’s like, wow, I have a little bit more energy, oh, I have even more energy,” Wayne says. “So it was almost night and day.”

Downes also noticed a difference with medication.

“I wake up more rested,” she says. “It feels like I’m more normal, like a more normal human being.”

Both doctors urge women to get a simple blood test to detect thyroid hormone levels. It can help determine if your thyroid function is underactive or overactive, which is known as hyperthyroidism.

For more information, go to the American Thyroid Association and the Hormone Health Network. 

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