For decades doctors have recognized synthetic thyroid hormone known as levothyroxine or brand name Synthroid, as the undisputed choice for treating hypothyroidism (low thyroid function). By virtue of hypothyroidism being extremely common levothyroxine has been the most prescribed medication in the U.S.
According to key medical organizations in this country, the only acceptable treatment of hypothyroidism is the use of levothyroxine alone. Using any other form of therapy is not recommended. Pointing to a significant number of patients receiving levothyroxine who continue to complain of symptoms of hypothyroidism health advocates have been calling for recognition of alternative treatments. One such alternative with a small but enthusiastic following is extract of pig thyroid (desiccated thyroid extract). All of the major organization of endocrinologists fail to recommend this form of treatment but in particular the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologist or AACE in the US has flatly stated this form of therapy should never be used. Physicians and their patients remain deeply divided on this issue.
In the spring of 2017 the American Thyroid Association (ATA) convened a symposium on treatment of hypothyroidism and determined that â€œit is important to describe the patient perspective regarding hypothyroidism treatment and to share itâ€ with the medical community. Now, after an enormous expenditure of time and effort, the results of their survey of patients being treated for hypothyroidism were published on-line. The full report in print will become available in the coming months. Here are some to the highlights of the ATA analysis of over 12,000 participant responses.
Overall satisfaction with the present choices of thyroid hormone treatment is 5 out of a possible 10Treatment satisfaction with desiccated thyroid extract (DTE) such as Armour and NP Thyroid was highest at 7 out of 10.
Lowest satisfaction was with levothyroxine or Synthroid alone at 5 of 10
Treatment with levothyroxine plus t3 (Cytomel, tri iodothyronine) was next best at 6 out of 10
Patients taking DTE were less likely to report problems with weight management, fatigue, mood and memory as compared to levothyroxine alone or levothyroxine plus t3
The authors conclude, â€œa subset of patients with hypothyroidism are not satisfied with their current therapy or their physiciansâ€ and â€œhigher satisfaction with both treatment and physicians is reported by those patients on DTEâ€.
After decades of dispute among physicians themselves about the best ways to treat hypothyroidism, patient are finally having their say. Some readers of this blog may have been among the participants in the survey and deserve great credit for sharing their experience with the medical community. It is hoped that this survey will mark a turning point in the discussion about treatment of hypothyroidism and help to forge a change in the way physicians approach this very common and often disabling condition.
If Hypothyroid and Unhappy, Which Came First?
By Gary Pepper, M.D.
Medical specialists increasingly accept that some patients being treated for hypothyroidism continue to be symptomatic and â€œunhappyâ€. The degree to which patients experience this problem while on conventional treatment for hypothyroidism with levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levoxyl, Unithroid, T4) has motivated many specialists to look for other approaches to treatment such as adding T3 (Cytomel, liothyronine) or switching to desiccated thyroid extract (Armour, WPthyroid, Westhroid
Not all experts are convinced looking for new treatment options for hypothyroidism is the right approach. (more…)
On April 11, 2016 an article, Doctors Hear Patients’ Calls for New Approaches to Hypothyroidism, appeared in the Wall Street Journal regarding the growing influence of patient preference on treatment selection for hypothyroidism (sluggish thyroid). The article was written by the WSJ health columnist Melinda Beck. I might have missed it but thanks to a motivated patient I received a copy within a week after its publication. With a glance I knew this report could be a highly significant addition in the on-going debate between specialists treating hypothyroidism (endocrinologists) and advocates of alternative approaches. (more…)
Dr. Gary Pepper and Dr. Paul Aoun discuss recent findings about thyroid hormone treatment at the 15th International Thyroid Congress
According to experts, 10 to 20% of hypothyroid individuals fail to respond completely to T4-only (levothyroxine, Synthroid) treatment. Dr. Anthony Bianco, the president of the American Thyroid Association, and his associates believe this is due to genetic variations in the way thyroid hormone is converted in the body from T4 into T3. T3 is the much more potent form of thyroid hormone and unless the cells of the body receive enough T3, normal function cannot be achieved and symptoms of low thyroid such as fatigue, mental fogginess, constipation, muscle aches etc, persist. Based on the research conducted by Dr. Bianco and colleagues it is thought that in those with the genetic trait making T4 treatment ineffective, blood tests would show low T3 levels. (more…)
Update from the 15th International Thyroid Congress, Orlando Florida, October, 2015
By Gary Pepper, M.D.
Â Â Â Â I just returned from Orlando, Florida, where I attended the 15th International Thyroid Congress and want to provide a report of my experience, to readers of metabolism.com. This was truly an international event with an estimated 50% of the attendees from outside the U.S. Organizers of this event describe it as, â€œRenowned experts in thyroid function and biology, diagnosis and management of thyroid disease, and novel therapies for treating thyroid cancer are gathering at the 15th International Thyroid Congress (ITC) to present, discuss, and debate the latest advances in thyroidology. Held every five years, the ITC is a collaborative meeting of the four world thyroid associations; the ATA (American Thyroid Association), Asia-Oceania Thyroid Association (AOTA), European Thyroid Association (ETA), and Latin American Thyroid Society (LATS).â€
I was particularly excited to be attending this conference this year since my colleagues, Drs. Paul Cassanova and Kathryn Reynolds and I were presenting our study on the use of combination T3 plus T4 for the treatment of underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
Here are some papers I found to be of particular interest; (more…)
Why Patients Arenâ€™t Receiving the Most Effective Treatment for Hypothyroidism
By Gary Pepper, M.D.
For the past 3 to 4 decades endocrinologists worldwide have adhered to the belief that only synthetic T4 (the most abundant of 4 thyroid hormones produced by the thyroid) is appropriate therapy for a sluggish thyroid even though it is known that a substantial number of those treated with T4 only continue to suffer from persistent symptoms of the disease. This may be because under normal conditions the thyroid produces two principle hormones T4 and T3. In 2013 an NIH study showed that 50% of those with hypothyroidism preferred treatment which includes T3 and our group reported that 78% of a subgroup of patients preferred T3 containing medication to treat hypothyroidism . (more…)