Dear Doctor: I Have Some Questions About Hypothyroidism

1.  What is hypothyroidism?

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is normally located in the lower front of the neck. It makes thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism means that the thyroid gland can’t make enough thyroid hormone. Common causes are autoimmune disease, surgical removal of the thyroid, and radiation treatment.

2.  How is hypothyroidism treated?

It can be treated by thyroxine (T4) replacement. Synthetic thyroxine pills contain hormone exactly like the T4 that the thyroid gland makes.

3.  What about “Natural” thyroid hormones?

Desiccated (dried and powdered) animal thyroid (Armour Thyroid), mainly obtained from pigs, was the most common form of thyroid hormone therapy before the individual active thyroid hormones were discovered. While desiccated thyroid contains both T4 and T3, the balance of T4 and T3 in animals is not the same as in humans, so the hormones in animal thyroid pills aren’t necessarily “natural” for the human body. Further, the amounts of both T4 and T3 can vary in every batch of the desiccated thyroid, making it harder to keep blood levels right. Finally, even desiccated thyroid pills have chemicals (binders) in them to hold the pill together, so they are not completely “natural”. There is no evidence that desiccated thyroid has any advantage over synthetic T4.

4.  Will thyroid hormone help me if I have hypothyroid symptoms but normal thyroid hormone levels?

Several scientific studies have looked at whether T4 therapy would be of benefit to patients with symptoms that overlap with hypothyroid symptoms and normal thyroid function. In all cases, there was no difference between T4 and a placebo (sugar pill) in improving symptoms or well-being.

Dr. Sayeeda Bilkis is an Endocrinologist for the UT Health Science Center at Houston and provides patient care at UT Physicians at Cinco Ranch located at 23923 Cinco Ranch Blvd., Katy, TX 77494. To schedule an appointment, please call 713-486-5300.