Tag Archives: Hashimoto’s

Viral Infection and the Thyroid in the Age of Covid-19

By Gary M. Pepper, M.D.
(This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice or treatment)

During the Covid-19 pandemic my medical practice has been operating as normally as possible. The other day a young woman arrived wearing a surgical mask with a stack of medical records in hand, for a new patient appointment. Her difficulties began 6 weeks prior with intense tenderness in the right side of her neck just above the clavicle (collarbone) which varied in intensity over the course of about 10 days. Evaluation by her primary care physician uncovered newly elevated thyroid hormone levels. During our discussion she recalled a respiratory tract infection starting a week before the neck pain developed.  Still complaining of lung congestion she denied fever or shortness of breath.  Sitting comfortably, the thyroid was no longer tender but was slightly enlarged and unusually firm.  Reading on it will become clear why my preliminary diagnosis is sub-acute thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid following a viral respiratory tract infection, possibly Covid-19. Continue reading

Highlights of the 2015 International Thyroid Congress

Update from the 15th International Thyroid Congress, Orlando Florida, October, 2015
By Gary Pepper, M.D.
Welcome     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, “Renowned 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).”
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; Continue reading

Dangerous Metabolic Supplements

A few weeks ago a new patient arrived at my office to discuss treatment for her thyroid disease. She was diagnosed with an under active thyroid several years prior but treatment with Synthroid was unsuccessful. She stopped using the medication on her own, at least a year ago. Blood tests obtained by another doctor a month before her visit with me, were diagnostic of hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels with elevated TSH) . During our session she described typical symptoms of hypothyroidism including fatigue, feeling unusually cold, dryness of the skin, brittle nails and puffiness around the eyes. On exam her thyroid was enlarged and had a gritty texture typical of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Her sister and mother also had thyroid disease, increasing the likelihood of the diagnosis of Hashimoto’s. Since her latest thyroid blood tests were only a few weeks old I felt comfortable beginning her on thyroid hormone replacement, in this case, Armour Thyroid, which I prefer due to its excellent clinical effectiveness.

My new patient was also on a number of supplements and vitamins including a non-prescription “metabolic complex” given to her recently by her chiropractor. By law in the U.S. supplements like these do not possess thyroid hormone and, in my experience, have no impact on thyroid hormone levels, either to increase or decrease them. As a precaution, we obtained a new set of thyroid hormone levels along with the test for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (anti-thyroid antibody panel).

Several days later, the patient called complaining she was “allergic” to the Armour Thyroid, developing jitteriness, anxiety, feeling flushed and a rapid heart rate. My first thought was she received the wrong dose of medication but a quick check of her records indicated this was not the issue. I called the lab and was surprised to learn the TSH at the time of her visit was already low, indicating excess thyroid levels or hyperthyroidism. What could have caused the sudden switch from hypo to hyper thyroidism? Rarely, patients with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis can convert to hyperthyroidism, an event I call the Zombie Thyroid because the thyroid comes back from the dead. More likely was that one of her supplements contained actual thyroid hormone, so I asked the patient to get me the labels from these products. In the meantime, I instructed her to stop the Armour Thyroid and the supplements until I could figure out what was happening. Her allergic symptoms resolved in a few days.

Examination of the supplements’ labels indicated that one manufactured in New Zealand did in fact have thyroid extract in it. It had so much thyroid hormone in it that the patient was already becoming hyperthyroid at the time she first came to the office. Signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism didn’t develop until she started taking Armour Thyroid along with the supplement. The mystery was solved but I am left feeling much less secure that my patients will not injure themselves with products obtained from outside the country either via the internet or from practitioners who provide it, perhaps unwittingly.

As I have in the past, I urge everyone to avoid medications and supplements produced outside the country which can contain active ingredients with potential health hazards. Always check with a physician before beginning a supplement which is obtained from the internet or mail order.

Gary Pepper, M.D.
Editor-in-Chief, metabolism.com

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice or treatment. Some details of this case have been altered to protect the patient’s identity.

Beware the Zombie Thyroid!!

Beware the Zombie Thyroid!!

Periodically, I update metabolism.com with interesting problems from my medical practice. Last week I was reminded of a particular thyroid disease which is little known and deserves more attention. In my patient’s case, she had an inactive thyroid (hypothyroid) due to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis for several years which, on its own switched to become an over-active thyroid (hyperthyroid). I call this event a “Zombie Thyroid”. Don’t bother trying to look this term up since ‘Zombie Thyroid’ is my own terminology. A Zombie Thyroid is, of course, one which returns from the dead. Most times when the thyroid is destroyed by either natural forces or by human intervention, the destruction is complete and irreversible. Rarely however, a thyroid which ceased function for years resumes producing thyroid hormone and may even becoming “hyper” or over-functioning. Such was the case of my patient last week. Confusion may result because the newly risen thyroid begins adding thyroid hormone to the blood of someone already taking thyroid hormone replacement for hypothyroidism (under-functioning thyroid). Recognizing the Zombie Thyroid can take months or years due to the rarity of the condition and the subtlety of the changes that occur on blood testing.

The Zombie Thyroid occurs in the setting of either autoimmune thyroid disease such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or a structural thyroid disease, multinodular goiter. Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of naturally occurring hypothyroidism in women under the age of 60 years. Hashimoto’s occurs when the body creates an antibody to the thyroid, resulting in destruction or impairment of the thyroid tissue. It is thought that the thyroid can ‘return from the dead’ if the body begins to produce more of another type of antibody that results in stimulation of the thyroid tissue. The switch from under active to over-active can take months or years. During this time the combination of taking thyroid hormone pills for Hashimoto’s plus the new supply of the body’s own thyroid hormone production can result in disturbing and seemingly unexplainable high thyroid levels. Once it is clear that the thyroid is producing thyroid hormone again it is possible to make appropriate adjustments in medication to return the situation back to normal.

Another situation involving the Zombie Thyroid is seen in elderly people who have had an enlarged and lumpy (nodular) thyroid for years. Some of these “multinodular goiters” produce adequate amounts of thyroid hormone but others can be associated with thyroid hormone deficiency (hypothyroid). When the multinodular goiter causes hypothyroidism, the patient will be treated with thyroid hormone replacement just like the Hashimoto’s patient. Over time the nodules may slowly begin to wake up and begin producing thyroid hormone. If the patient is already taking thyroid hormone due to the previous diagnosis of hypothyroidism, the combination of the two sources of thyroid hormone can result in excess or “hyper” thyroidism. In the elderly the doctor may suspect the elevated thyroid hormone levels are the result of a medication error perhaps due to the patient’s forgetfulness. If no action is taken serious complications of hyperthyroidism can develop such as irregular heart beat, congestive heart failure, excessive fatigue, and mental or mood impairment. Some elderly patients become withdrawn and lose weight mimicking depression, a situation known as “apathetic hyperthyroidism”. Recognition of the Zombie Thyroid is essential to restoring the thyroid levels and the patient’s clinical status back to normal.

Don’t let yourself or loved one become a victim of this ‘back from the dead’ thyroid. Alertness is the key to recognizing and treating the Zombie Thyroid. Ask your own physician for advice if you suspect this condition.

This article is for educational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice. The disclaimer of metabolism.com applies to this and all my blogs.

Gary Pepper, M.D., Editor-in-Chief, metabolism.com