It may be a functional disorder; the result of a weakened immune system; or it may be produced iatrogenically by Western treatment such as a sequel to the treatment of hyperthyroidism. In Western medicine, it has two differentiations - primary and secondary, of which the former is the most common. Primary hypothyroidism is thought of as an autoimmune disease induced through chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland, also known as Hashimoto's thyroiditis. This variety occurs most commonly in women. Secondary hypothyroidism is caused by failure of the hypothalamus to regulate the thyroid gland, or lack of secretion of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) from the pituitary gland. Laboratory evaluation is needed to differentiate these two varieties. Low levels of TSH exist in secondary hypothyroidism, whereas very high levels of TSH characterize primary hypothyroidism due to the fact that there is no feedback inhibition of the pituitary gland.
Signs and symptoms of the early diagnosis of primary hypothyroidism may be non-detectable except through blood analysis as in the case of the patient described herein, and hence, its more common clinical differentiations will not be described here. Standard Western treatment generally involves life-long hormonal replacement therapy with synthetic hormones or animal protomorphogens. In Oriental medicine, hypothyroidism is classified as a deficiency syndrome of qi, yin or yang -- usually of the kidney -- and this must be differentiated. Treatment can include long-term acupuncture and herbal medicine.
In my clinical experience I have treated many patients with hypothyroidism, but never as their major complaint. Such patients came for other health problems and accepted the diagnosis and their medication as a reality. They did not want it treated directly, nor did they have any interest in its possible remediation. Last year, I had the unique opportunity to treat a patient with an early diagnosis of primary hypothyroidism within three weeks of detection. The reason for this propitious early treatment was related to the vigilance of the patient, who I have been treating for the last eight years (initially for the effects of stress on her health, and later for health maintenance and other minor problems). She always sought Oriental medical treatment for the resolution of her health problems; this case was no exception.
On July 26 of last year, she came to see me following her annual exam with her physician. At that time, she reported to her doctor that she felt she had been suffering from a "flu" for about three months, which was characterized by fatigue; sore throat; cough; and congestion. Her doctor, on a hunch, ordered blood work that revealed her thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level was 9.02: an amount almost twice the normal range of 0.40-5.50. He diagnosed her condition as primary hypothyroidism, wrote a prescription for Levoxyl, and made recommendations for future appointments and periodic testing. However, he was very cooperative and supportive of her medical choices and encouraged her to receive Oriental medical treatment since he knew it to be her preferred approach.
When she came to see me three weeks later, she did not have any overt, classical signs or symptoms of hypothyroidism. Subjectively she was experiencing tenderness in her neck. I conducted what I call a thyroid evaluation by gently palpating the following points bilaterally for tenderness: local points in the proximity of the thyroid gland, ST9 (renying) and LI18 (neck futu), and KI3 (taixi), the source point of the kidney, indicating kidney deficiency. All were tender. In my experience, they may suggest a subclinical or clinical hypothyroid condition. I administered a treatment, the protocol is found in the following chart. Its effect is to regulate and tonify the qi and yang; vitalize the blood; and stimulate and strengthen the immune system.
About a week later, she returned for a treatment and said her neck felt good. The treatment was repeated. Two weeks later, she returned for her third treatment. Overall she felt better and described the previous treatment as a "jump start," an analogy I think accurately described the treatment plan and its desired effects. On August 25th, her TSH levels were retested. They had almost halved from 9.02 to 4.98 and were now in the normal range of 0.40-5.50. Her doctor wrote on the lab results, "Great news!" She received three acupuncture treatments over the next three months and then had a follow-up retest that revealed that the TSH levels were now a little lower (4.83). Her doctor pronounced the thyroid as normal and said "Great." My recommendation was to have her see me three to four times a year for health maintenance and continued
monitoring of the past problem.
Acupuncture for Hypothyroidism in Pittsburgh available at Medical Acupuncture, call for your appointment.
Skya Abbate DOM