Treating hypothyroidism isn’t a short-term fix. You’ll need to take thyroid hormone over the long term — and possibly for the rest of your life — to replace the hormone your thyroid gland isn’t releasing.
Your primary care doctor will coordinate your treatment, but your family doctor alone can’t handle every aspect of your care. You’ll need a whole team of medical specialists working together to keep you healthy.
Here’s a look at some of the medical professionals who will be part of your hypothyroidism team.
Primary care doctor
When you have hypothyroidism symptoms like fatigue, cold intolerance, weight gain, and dry skin, you’ll start with a visit to your primary care doctor. They will do blood tests to check your levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Your pituitary gland releases this hormone to tell your thyroid to release its hormones. A high TSH level is a sign that your thyroid is underactive.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, your doctor will start you on thyroid hormone. You’ll have follow-up visits for more blood tests and checkups so your doctor can adjust your thyroid hormone dose, if necessary. Usually your primary care doctor can manage most of your care, but you might need to see other thyroid specialists, too.
An endocrinologist is a specialist who treats diseases of hormone-releasing (endocrine) glands. Endocrinologists work with people who have conditions like diabetes and osteoporosis, as well as those with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
You might see an endocrinologist when you’re first diagnosed to go over the treatment plan your primary care doctor prescribed. If you’ve been taking thyroid hormone for a while and it isn’t managing your symptoms, an endocrinologist can step in to try something new. Because endocrinologists have special training and are familiar with the latest treatments, they can explore options your primary care doctor might not know about. Your endocrinologist will work closely with your primary care doctor to manage your condition.
Nurses help your thyroid doctors manage your care. Your nurse might:
- give you a blood test during an exam
- explain how to take your thyroid medicine
- answer any questions you have about hypothyroidism and its treatment
- schedule your upcoming checkups
- coordinate care between your primary care provider, endocrinologist, and other specialists
Some nurses are also care coordinators. They not only help manage your care plan with your various doctors and handle referrals, but also help you take advantage of resources like therapists and support groups to ensure you stay healthy.
Good nutrition is a critical part of your thyroid disease management plan. Getting on the right diet can help you prevent weight gain, which is often a side effect of an underactive thyroid gland. The right blend of fats, carbs, and nutrients also helps prevent heart disease in those with diabetes, which is a bigger risk when you have hypothyroidism.
Your nutritionist will help you design a balanced diet plan that meets your nutritional needs. They will address dietary issues related to your hypothyroidism, such as:
- avoiding iodine supplements and supplements with high levels of iodine such as kelp
- avoiding soy products, which can affect thyroid hormone absorption
- avoiding cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, which make it harder for your thyroid gland to take up iodine
To manage your hypothyroidism, follow the advice of your doctors and other members of your treatment team. If you’re unsure about any aspect of your therapy, ask your doctor, nurse, or nutritionist. And if something doesn’t make sense to you, seek out a second opinion.Read more in Hypothyroidism Resources
Chronic Conditions Team. (2014, September 23). Thyroid issues? What you need to know about diet and supplements. Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2014/09/thyroid-issues-what-you-need-to-know-about-diet-and-supplements/
Gaitonde, D. Y., Rowley, K. D., & Sweeney, L. B. (2012 August). Hypothyroidism: An update. American Family Physician, 86(3), 244-251. Retrieved from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0801/p244.html
Thyroid hormone treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.thyroid.org/thyroid-hormone-treatment/
Value of an endocrinologist. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hormone.org/contact-a-health-professional/value-of-an-endocrinologist
What is an endocrinologist? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hormone.org/contact-a-health-professional/what-is-an-endocrinologist
What nurses do. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nursingworld.org/EspeciallyForYou/What-is-Nursing/Tools-You-Need/RNsAPNs.html