Thyroid hormones affect every single cell of your body, profoundly impacting how you think, look, and feel. About 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men have abnormally low thyroid hormone levels. If you are one of these people, it’s important to find the right medical help. Here’s how to find a thyroid doctor or endocrinologist in your area.
Without enough thyroid hormones, you can become depressed, cold, and tired. Your hair can fall out and you may easily gain weight. You are even at a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. (Take a closer look at symptoms of thyroid problems here.)
Unfortunately, getting good treatment for a thyroid disorder can be a real challenge. Many people with thyroid issues know how difficult it can be to find an endocrinologist or thyroid doctor who is willing to really listen and pay attention to all their symptoms.
Finding a Thyroid Doctor: First Steps
Why is finding a thyroid doctor so challenging? Most doctors in today’s healthcare system in the U.S. don’t have the time, training, or incentives to treat the whole person. Besides that, there are a number of issues that are specific to thyroid disorders that make finding a doctor and getting good treatment particularly challenging:
- First, studies show that many people with hypothyroidism, the most common thyroid disorder, still don’t feel well with standard treatment. While it’s beyond the scope of this brief article to explore why, one reason is that conventionally trained medical doctors most often treat with levothyroxine (T4; Synthroid) only. Studies also show that some patients feel better when they get treatment with not only T4 but with the body’s other thyroid hormone, T3, as well.[1,2] Most conventionally trained physicians in the U.S. refuse to even consider the addition of T3 replacement, even in patients who still complain of symptoms after T4-only treatment.
- A second issue is that in which the standard thyroid laboratory tests are normal but the individual still has a plethora of classic hypothyroid symptoms. Of course, it is always possible that these symptoms are stemming from a non-thyroid-related problem. In these cases, it’s absolutely vital for doctors to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms and not discount them. However, some individuals are in fact suffering from a thyroid deficiency and have all the classic symptoms but the conventional thyroid lab test used by their doctor shows nothing to be wrong. Most conventionally trained doctors do not recognize or treat these cases and in fact will likely declare in certain terms that “It is not your thyroid that is the problem.”
- A third issue is that of “subclinical hypothyroidism.” In this case, some of your lab test results, such as your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) are abnormal and indicate hypothyroidsm. And although you likely have some health issues and symptoms, you don’t have classic hypothyroid symptoms. This is the opposite of the hypothyroid situation described above, in which you have normal labs but classic symptoms. Most doctors still don’t treat subclinical hypothyroidism despite all the recent research showing that this type of hypothyroidism negatively impacts your health and quality of life and that some of these factors can improve substantially with proper treatment.[3-5]
In addition to the three scenarios described above, there are many other situations in which thyroid dysfunction may be playing a role in your symptoms without causing overt thyroid disease detectable by the usual thyroid lab testing. Nutritional deficiencies and toxic overload are two such situations that are often missed or ignored by conventionally trained doctors.
Doctors Who Understand Thyroid Issues
The good news is that there are healthcare providers who understand these thyroid issues, are up-to-date with the latest thyroid research, and who will take the time to really listen to you without discounting your symptoms. Some conventionally trained physicians, including internists, general practitioners, family medicine physicians, osteopathic physicians, and endocrinologists, can be good thyroid doctors who are willing to treat more than just the numbers on your thyroid labs.
Many of these conventionally trained doctors—and some nurse practitioners as well—have chosen to get further training in holistic, integrative, and natural medicine through various organizations or professional association groups such as the Institute for Functional Medicine, the American College for the Advancement in Medicine, or the American Holistic Medical Association.
Naturopathic doctors are also trained to treat thyroid disease and in some states can prescribe any necessary thyroid medications as well as recommend specific supplements, herbal medicines, dietary therapies, and other holistic treatments.
How to Find a Thyroid Doctor
Find an integrative endocrinologist or thyroid doctor who will support your natural healing preferences by going to the websites of the following natural-healing-oriented professional associations and using their physician locator services. Some of the organizations and associations known for supporting integrative, natural, and functional medicine approaches are:
- American College for Advancement in Medicine
- American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M)
- The Institute for Functional Medicine
- American Association of Naturopathic Physicians
- International College of Integrative Medicine
- American Holistic Medical Association
Share Your Experience with Finding a Thyroid Doctor
What have you experienced in trying to find a good thyroid doctor? Have you had low thyroid function that went undiagnosed for years? How did you finally get a proper diagnosis? Have you found an endocrinologist or healthcare practitioner that you want to recommend? Please share your experience on how to find a good thyroid doctor in the comments section below.
This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.