Is your thyroid gland really normal? Or is it making you sick even though some tests a doctor ran says it is? What tests did you have, what additional tests may be needed to give a more accurate assessment of thyroid function and how can your thyroid gland be contributing to your bipolar illness mood states?
These are all important questions for anyone diagnosed bipolar to ask. They are especially important for those who are taking lithium, or who have unrelenting fatigue as a major symptom.
Lithium can cause existing thyroid issues to worsen, or create a thyroid problem all on its own as a side effect of long-term use. And your underfunctioning or overfunctioning thyroid gland may have be the primary underlying biological cause that created the onset of your severe mood states in the first place.
What Does Your Thyroid Gland Do?
Your thyroid gland does a bunch of very important things in your body such as regulate metabolic rate, heart and digestive function, muscle control and brain development. It is the part of the endocrine system that releases thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. Source: Society for Endocrinology
It does a lot of other things too that we don’t need to get into here except for how it affects moods and how it may be contributing to your bipolar illness mood states.
Checking Thyroid Function
This is – unfortunately – not done thoroughly by most doctors. Most will only test your TSH levels and maybe T4 too. TSH is thyroid-stimulating hormone that is released by the pituitary gland in the brain and tells your thyroid gland to produce hormones. The two main hormones produced are T4 and T3.
Your body makes more T4 but then converts much of it to T3. A few more steps and T3 becomes free T3 (circulating in the bloodstream not bound to a protein). It is free T3 that does most of the good stuff at the metabolic level.
If they test TSH and T4 and both are in the normal range then your symptoms of depression, fatigue, weight gain, lethargy, difficulty sleeping, etc. will be thought to be from depression. Even though test results can vary from lab to lab and accepted ranges for ‘normal’ differ from doctor to doctor.
And that the real underlying problem is a difficulty converting T4 to T3 and then to free T3. Why? A big reason is that Synthroid is the most commonly prescribed thyroid medicine and is synthetic T4. But there are T3 medications, so be sure to get complete and accurate testing.
Even then – or even without testing at all or tests that show low normal to normal ranges – you may need a bit more of a medicine (get in the normal or above normal range) to stop feeling so sluggish and depressed. Your hair has grown back some but you still feel like laying in bed all day.
Testing for Free T3 is Important
You may even be given the name of a psychiatrist, or a prescription for an antidepressant. But what is really going on biologically is an underactive thyroid gland. You just weren’t tested thoroughly and the physician is not willing to accept that the testing may not tell the whole story of what’s going on in your body.
Consider searching for a new doctor if you are told your thyroid gland is normal and a doctor won’t test for free T3. The conversion from T4 to free T3 may be the issue.
That recently happened to me, and I have a 25 year history of mild hypothyroidism and being on Synthroid medication. When I used up the last of my prescription, and was off any med for a month then started to get overly-tired, feeling like I could barely move, sleepy during the day, etc. I researched online about natural dessicated thyroid medicine.
I had no access to care, so bought an over-the-counter (OTC) product. The results have been very good. And I will share that info in detail in a follow-up post. I would have rather been seen by a physician, tested thoroughly and given a prescription med but was not able to.
Don’t tolerate intolerable fatigue. And don’t believe that it is ‘just depression’ or ‘bipolar depression’. Depression – even with the marketing term bipolar in front of it – is a real physical illness. Find out what is going on in your body to make you feel that way.
And if you are told your thyroid is normal, know that might not be the full picture. You may want to do a trial run of an OTC dessicated thyroid product. And you may be amazed at how much better you feel, and how much it lessens your bipolar depressive states.
Image of thyroid system is a free use image on Wikipedia by Mikael Häggström.