Myth vs Reality: Examining misunderstandings about thyroid


The other day a patient came up to me asking why she was gaining weight. She complained about how she always felt tired and was in a low mood. She also stated how her menstrual cycle was irregular and asked me if it was due to her thyroid.

As an endocrinologist, I come across these people quite often. Many men and women blame the thyroid for any irregularities in their bodies.

Situated in the neck, the thyroid gland is important in the human body. Resembling a butterfly in shape, this gland plays a crucial role by producing two hormones, namely T3 and T4, commonly referred to as thyroid hormones. When the body generates an excess or deficiency of these hormones, it triggers the onset of various symptoms in the affected individual.

The gland plays a major role in the human body’s metabolism, growth, and overall development. Its influence extends to the regulation of numerous bodily functions through the consistent release of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream.

In situations demanding increased energy, such as growth, exposure to cold temperatures, or during pregnancy, the thyroid gland responds by producing elevated levels of hormones to meet the heightened requirements.

So here are 14 common myths and facts about the thyroid:

1. Myth: A lump or swelling in the thyroid means you have thyroid cancer.

Fact: Only five per cent of thyroid nodules are cancerous and most of the swelling is non-cancerous.

2. Myth: If you have a thyroid problem, you will develop a goitre (enlarged thyroid).

Fact: The majority of people with thyroid issues do not develop goitres and with the ubiquitous supply of iodised salt, goitres have become a thing of the past.

3. Myth: All people with thyroid problems have bulging eyes.

Fact: Bulging eyes are just one symptom of thyroid eye disease, which is the most common with hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone) and Graves’ disease (an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid). A tiny percentage of people who do not have thyroid problems have the bulging eyes of thyroid eye disease which can be familial.

4. Myth: Only middle-aged or older women have thyroid problems.

Fact: Both men and women can develop a thyroid condition at any age. One in five women develop thyroid problems by age 60. Thyroid disease may affect your fertility, pregnancy or postpartum months.

Thyroid gland
Thyroid gland

5. Myth: Thyroid problems are best diagnosed by identifying symptoms.

Fact:  About 60 per cent of people with thyroid disease do not know they have it. A TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) blood test, in combination with symptoms such as fatigue, weight change, muscle and joint pain, or swollen neck, helps doctors make the most accurate diagnosis of thyroid disease.

6. Myth: Thyroid disease is easy to treat.

Fact: It is quite complex in many cases and requires several different approaches to successfully diagnose and manage. And like with any other medication, Thyroxine dosage varies from person to person.

7. Myth: It is safer and more natural to treat thyroid disease with iodine or salt rather than prescription medicine.

Fact: You can worsen thyroid disease by treating it with iodine. Do not take iodine supplements without your doctor’s advice.

8. Myth: You cannot lose weight with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).

Fact: If your dosage of medicine is effective, hypothyroidism would not affect your ability to lose weight.

9. Myth: Taking extra thyroid hormone will give you extra energy and make you lose weight.

Fact: Always take your medicine as prescribed by your doctor. If you take more than the prescribed amount, it can result in side effects such as insomnia, shakiness, increased appetite and heart palpitations.

10. Myth: You can manage hypothyroidism with diet.

Fact: Diet alone cannot regulate problems of the thyroid. Thyroid medicine helps bring hormone production to a normal level. Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals is still important to your overall health.

11. Myth: You cannot eat cruciferous vegetables like cauliflowers, cabbages and broccoli.

Fact: Thyroid has no relation to food, so you can always eat these green leafy veggies as long as taken in regular amounts.

doctor visitation for hormone therapy by Nepali trans community whole-body checkup
Photo: Pexels/ Klaus Nielsen

12. Myth: People gain weight because of their thyroid.

Fact: We have the tendency to blame thyroid problems for many things but weight gain is the most common complaint, however, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can lead to a weight gain of around 2-4 kgs maximum, rest is due to a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet.

13. Myth: Females with thyroid issues cannot get pregnant.

Fact: Although patients will indeed have difficulty compared to normal females it is possible to get pregnant and if the patient has been treated adequately then the chances of pregnancy are similar to normal females of their age and race. And if you are on Thyroxine pre-pregnancy then the dose should be increased once you are pregnant.

14. Myth: One can stop medication once their thyroid becomes normal.

Fact: The medication you take lasts for a week in your body so once you stop taking them, the thyroid hormones level drop and can cause a relapse of symptoms. So it is very unlikely you can stop your medication and you should never stop without consulting your endocrinologist.

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Dr Sandeep Chandra Shrestha is a consultant endocrinologist and physician at Kathmandu Diabetes and Thyroid Center, Jawalakhel.

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