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.
The nature of interaction between the thyroid and coronavirus is unknown but we are on the verge of finding out as we investigate cases like this. Until then, our understanding of how other viral infections affect the thyroid can provide grounds for speculation. A good place to start is with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. This is a common thyroid disease most often diagnosed in middle-aged women although it can occur in both sexes and all ages. As an autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s results when immune cells and the antibodies they produce attack the thyroid gland. Normally immune cells, known as lymphocytes, with their antibodies are protective against viral and bacterial infection. In autoimmune thyroid disease a population of the affected individuals immune cells begin to destroy thyroid cells instead. Technically this is an inflammatory reaction but unlike many inflammations, Hashimoto’s is generally painless. Being painless, Hashimoto’s can exist for many years before it is detected by routine blood tests for thyroid levels or is discovered on physical exam presenting as an enlarged and lumpy (nodular) thyroid gland.
The development of Hashimoto’s is thought to involve inherited (genetic) factors but also likely requires an environmental trigger such as a virus to initiate clinical disease. The genetic nature of Hashimoto’s is manifest in the occurrence of the disease in multiple members within a family. The type of viral infection promoting this disease is unclear. Some studies point to Epstein Barr virus, commonly called EB virus as a potential trigger for Hashimoto’s activation. EB virus is extremely wide spread found in over 95% of the world’s population. In humans, it generally exists in an asymptomatic state from childhood to old age. In certain individuals, EB virus can create serious illnesses such as mononucleosis or cancers of the lymphoma type. Evidence that EB virus plays a significant role in autoimmune thyroid disease includes finding of the EB viral genetic material (RNA) in the thyroid tissue of 80% of those with Hashimoto’s and 62% of those with Grave’s (hyperthyroidism). 90% of all lymphomas involving the thyroid occur in those with Hashimoto’s, and as just mentioned lymphoma is a characteristic cancer related to EB viral infection.
Why do some people and not others develop the more severe form of EB disease such as lymphoma or autoimmune thyroid disease? The likely explanation is that as mentioned above, genetic factors result in susceptibility to more aggressive complications of the viral infection. Many infectious disease experts are speculating similar genetic factors account for the extreme variability between individuals of complications of Covid-19.
Another form of thyroid inflammation that unlike Hashimoto’s is often painful, is sub-acute or DeQuervain’s thyroiditis. This thyroid disorder tends to occur days to weeks after an upper respiratory illness. The onset is often accompanied by fatigue, generalized muscle pain, low-grade fever and throat pain, which can radiate upward to the ears. At the onset of this disorder thyroid hormone levels are elevated due to destruction of thyroid cells releasing hormone into the blood. Many of the presenting symptoms of sub-acute thyroiditis are those of elevated thyroid levels such as rapid heart rate, sweating, and weight loss. These symptoms usually resolve in a few weeks and in 15-30% of patients due to thyroid tissue destruction permanently under active thyroid function (hypothyroidism) results.
Substantial evidence exists for involvement of viral infection in the development of sub-acute thyroiditis. For example, the occurrence of sub-acute thyroiditis is more frequent in summer when Coxsackievirus infection is most common. Virus particles similar to mumps and flu have also been found in the thyroid of people with sub-acute thyroiditis and outbreaks of this thyroid disease have occurred during mumps epidemics. Some experts believe that sub-acute thyroiditis is a post-viral illness, meaning the body’s immune response persists even after cleansing the body of the virus but in a misdirected manner, attacking molecular targets on the thyroid cells that bear similarities with the virus structure. Interestingly, the occurrence of sub-acute thyroiditis is more common in those with Hashimoto’s.
The presence of HTLV-1 viruses has also been associated with development of autoimmune thyroid disease including both Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Grave’s disease (hyperthyroidism). Evidence for this involves finding antibodies to HTLV-1 virus in Hashimoto’s and Grave’s patients. About 6% of those with Grave’s and 7% of Hashimoto’s having these antibodies. Since 95% of people with antibodies to HTLV-1 never develop any symptoms, screening people for this infection is currently not being done.
A common question in my medical practice is whether those with Hashimoto’s have increased vulnerability to Covid-19 infection? There have been no formal studies of this as yet but in a poll of the 10 endocrinologists in my group none felt that Hashimoto’s was a risk factor for suppression of the immune system which could result in more severe viral complications. Also, there is no compelling evidence that those with Hashimoto’s have impaired ability to fight infections. Of great interest, a study published in 2022 reports that several cases of Grave’s disease or overactive thyroid function have resulted after SARS-CoV-2 vaccination
Studies indicate that low levels of thyroid hormone can result in impaired immune function without any link to underlying Hashimoto’s. This relationship should motivate those with hypothyroidism to check that their thyroid hormone levels are optimized to help maintain immune function. There is disagreement in the medical community regarding what exactly constitutes best thyroid hormone levels and how to achieve those levels when medication is required. Concerned individuals should discuss this matter with a qualified health care provider and valuable information on this topic can be found at www.metabolism.com.
Another question in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is whether the virus induces pathological changes in the thyroid such as seen with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Grave’s disease or sub-acute thyroiditis. If infection by this virus does affect the thyroid the clinical signs and symptoms could take weeks after recovery from Covid-19 to become apparent. As detailed by the case reported at the beginning of this article, initial symptoms of sub-acute thyroiditis include pain in the throat often radiating upward to the ears, swelling in the lower neck, and tenderness in this area. During the early phase of sub-acute thyroiditis symptoms of elevated thyroid levels can also occur including excessive sweating, persistently feeling hot, rapid heartbeat, shakiness, and unexplained weight loss. Similarly, Grave’s disease can cause these symptoms but without the accompanying tenderness in the thyroid area. If enough damage is done to the thyroid by the inflammation within a few more weeks symptoms of low (hypo) thyroid levels may develop such as feeling unusually cold, muscle cramps, unexplained weight gain, fatigue, constipation and facial puffiness. Individuals are encouraged to consult with their health care professional if experiencing these or other unusual symptoms to determine if they represent a medical disorder.
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.Â Still complaining of lung congestion she denied fever or shortness of breath.Â Sitting comfortably, the thyroid was no longer tender but was slightly enlarged and unusually firm.Â 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.(more…)
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 Hashimotoâ€™s Thyroiditis. Her sister and mother also had thyroid disease, increasing the likelihood of the diagnosis of Hashimotoâ€™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 â€œmetabolic complexâ€ 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 Hashimotoâ€™s Thyroiditis (anti-thyroid antibody panel).
Several days later, the patient called complaining she was â€œallergicâ€ 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 Hashimotoâ€™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 supplementsâ€™ 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 didnâ€™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 patientâ€™s identity.
The mission of the The Thyroid Project is to encourage sharing of information and experience between the public and the medical community about the treatment of hypothyroidism (low thyroid function). For at least the past few decades there is a growing awareness of â€œsomething missingâ€ in the way suffers of hypothyroidism are treated for their disease.
Too many patients, as documented in an on-line study of 12,000 individuals conducted by the American Thyroid Association published in June 2018, (https://doi.org/10.1089/thy.2017.0681) , complain of persistent symptoms of hypothyroidism despite what their doctors believe is successful treatment with levothyroxine (brands include Synthroid, Unithroid, Tirosent, Levoxl). We believe something needs to be done to resolve this conflict between patients and their doctors.
Diabetes can be defined simply as elevated blood sugar levels. What exactly is high blood sugar and when should someone be concerned about their level? Does having prediabetes mean diabetes is around the corner? Metabolism.com tackles this tricky but important topic in this comprehensive review.
By Gary M. Pepper, M.D. Ozempic, Rybelsus, Trulicity, Wegovy, Saxenda are the central players in the weight loss craze sweeping across the globe. Metabolisim.com has been monitoring this phenomenon from its beginnings in 2008 with its report “Lizard Spit Reduces Blood Sugar and Appetite”, regarding the first drug in this class, Byetta (exenatide). Caught In the middle of the current chaos are the medical experts who treat diabetes and have been prescribing these medications for more than a decade. Here is a brief commentary from one such board certified endocrinologist; “I started treating Type 2 diabetics with GLP-1 agonists more than 10 years ago. In some respects, these medications have revolutionized the treatment of diabetes by lowering blood sugar effectively and promoting weight loss at the same time, a unique combination of benefits. Not everyone benefits from these drugs to the same degree unfortunately, and I have seen lots of patients experience unacceptable side effects from them. Nothing though, has prepared me for what is happening now. Too often, I find myself confronting someone who expects me to prescribe one of these drugs just so they can lose weight. Sadly, one extreme example was someone who, despite battling a life threatening medical condition, was insistent on getting a prescription. At the same time my diabetic patients are scrambling to find a place to buy their medications if they can even afford it. It is disheartening, to say the least, and I dread the negative interactions with some of my patients I now face almost daily.”
Off- Label Use
The FDA is the U.S. government’s department tasked with evaluating and approving drugs for specific medical conditions. When a new medication is approved for treating a medical condition by the FDA the agency will, at the same time, set strict guidelines for exactly which patients may use the newly approved drug. When a medication is used “off-label” it means that these limitations are being overridden by the provider for a potential benefit which outweighs the drugs risks. It is a general misconception that off-label means illegal; it does not. This practice has been going on for ages and more than 20% of prescriptions in the United States are prescribed off-label. A common example is the use of beta-blockers (approved for heart problems) for the treatment of performance anxiety.
GLP-1 agonist drugs, as discussed recently by metabolism.com. were originally approved for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes in adults. In the past few years most of these same medications have gained unprecedented popularity for their “off-label” weight loss benefit. Of the 5 GLP-1 agents presently in U.S. pharmacies only Wegovy (semaglutide) and Saxenda (liraglutide) are FDA approved for treating obesity. Of these two, Wegovy is the newer and had been much more popular that its sister drug Saxenda, probably due to being dosed only once weekly compared to daily for Saxenda and less likely to cause side effects. Due to Wegovy’s soaring popularity, its manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, increased the price of Wegovy two times since its initial release.
by Gary M. Pepper, M.D. and Sam Jeans, MSc The global anti-obesity drug market, in 2021was valued at over $2 billion. Within one year this figure had skyrocketed to $8 billion and is expected to climb to nearly $ 20 billion by 2027. This astounding growth is a reflection of soaring obesity rates, and the arrival of a new class of weight loss medication fueling a craze both in the USA and across the world.
The FDA and global health regulators, until very recently, had maintained a very tight ship when it comes to treating obesity with medication, placing the emphasis on diet and exercise rather than weight loss drugs. Since the 80s, anti-obesity drugs continued to be controversial, and a more stringent FDA implemented ongoing safety trials along with other precautions. There is some speculation that a shift in attitude toward approval of weight loss medication by the FDA , is underway
Weight loss drug controversies are far from over and, in fact, may soon rival the amphetamine crisis of the 70’s. For that reason, metabolism.com has felt it important to provide our guide to weight loss drug issues, past and present.
Anti-Obesity Drugs Timeline
Prescription drugs for lifestyle diseases such as obesity were marketed heavily throughout the 1950s to the 1970s. Amphetamines entered the public domain after the Second World War where they were used extensively in the military.
In the 50s, walk-in clinics prescribed diet pills with other medications almost at random, with or without genuine concern for one’s weight. These brightly colored pills became known as “rainbow pills”.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the so-called “rainbow pill diet” of pills was finally coming to an end as the FDA began to systematically ban many of the drugs involved. A high-profile expose by investigative journalist Susanna Mcbee, published in Life magazine, brought attention to this new modern public health crisis.
The rainbow pill diet combined amphetamines, laxatives, thyroid hormones, and even diuretics to produce extreme weight loss, combined with benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and steroids to reduce side effects, and antidepressants to suppress medication-induced insomnia and anxiety.
In 1968, rainbow pills were linked to over 60 deaths, with numerous accounts of their devastating impact surfacing in the news and media. Within just two months, 48 million pills were seized and destroyed. Nevertheless, amphetamine-based diet pills remained extremely popular throughout the 1970s. In 1978, some 3.3 million prescriptions for amphetamines were written each year, with some 50 million pills a year ending up in the black market.
In 1979, the FDA banned amphetamines as a weight loss aid, but that is hardly the end of the USA’s love affair with obesity medication.
Here’s a brief timeline of recent anti-obesity drugs: