Did you know? January is Thyroid Awareness Month!
I beg you: PLEASE be aware, not just in January but all year long.
I have personally been forced into awareness of just how much this small gland in the front of your neck controls nearly every function in your body. As advanced as our healthcare system has become, there is still a major lack of understanding of what causes thyroid disorders, how to treat them, and the myriad of additional symptoms they cause by affecting other systems, such as cardiovascular.
Thyroid disorders are no joke!
If you’ve been experiencing symptoms that have not been explained, ask your provider to run some thyroid tests, it could be the key to your recovery.
For example, irregular / increased heart rate (over 100bpm), shaking hands, hair loss, unexplained weight loss, more frequent bowel movements, elevated blood pressure and intolerance to heat could mean you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), which is often caused by the autoimmune disorder of Graves’ disease.
Or perhaps you’re experiencing extreme tiredness, low heart rate, weight gain, dry skin, constipation, sensitivity to cold. These symptoms could indicate an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), which is often caused by the autoimmune disorder of Hashimoto’s disease.
The three main thyroid hormones that need to be tested are: TSH, Free T3 and Free T4, as well as a test for thyroid antibodies (TPO) to help determine origin. I found a site that allows you to purchase your own test kit without initially involving your provider. It is currently $149 and can be reviewed by clicking HERE. (I am not affiliated with this third-party link; I just found it personally helpful.)
I had felt “not well” for several months early last year. My symptoms were those that we tend to easily disregard and brush off as a fact of getting older. (I am 54.) I was experiencing sleep disruption, racing heart, foggy thinking, and fatigue. My hair became brittle and my skin felt different. I had more frequent bowel movements, which I assumed was because I was suddenly eating more, even though the number on the scale was going down.
Being a Medicare agent and spending the last 15 years interacting with our over 65 population, I had heard the story many times that “getting old ain’t for the faint of heart.” Damn straight!
Then, a friend asked me about my blood pressure. I never gave that any thought, because mine was typically on the low side--which had always been my defense when people asked me why I put salt on my pizza. But I got my hands on a blood pressure cuff: 196/124 (normal is 120/80 or below). I used the cuff again and then it was higher – WHAT? After a quick Google search, I was off to the ER. (Now, I know it can be tempting to start searching your symptoms and go down the rabbit hole, but please be careful about using the internet to diagnose yourself. That’s what the professionals are for!)
The ER physician diagnosed me with thyrotoxicosis, meaning they knew it was my thyroid causing the problem and that it was overactive. They gave me a prescription for a beta blocker to help control my heart rate and told me to schedule an appointment with an endocrinologist ASAP.
Scheduling an appointment with a specialist is easier said than done. The first several calls I made were disheartening, as I was told me they could see me in three to four months. (The state of the union of our healthcare system is a blog for another time, and I have a lot to say on that topic.) Yet, I persevered and got an appointment scheduled for six weeks later.
I spent those six weeks barely able to function. My heart rate never dropped below 100 and my blood pressure was all over the place. I could not stand up for more than a minute or two or I would be dizzy and nauseous. I hardly slept. Weight kept falling off (luckily, I had some to give) and then the brain fog kicked in. Brain fog was about the most the terrifying part; I was no longer able to make the simplest of decisions. My life was unrecognizable.
Starting treatment meant a high dose of Methimazole (antithyroid drug) and completing lots of labs, since most of my levels were so high they barely registered on the tests. I was told that I am a “unique” case, because although my initial diagnosis was Grave’s Disease (hyper), I also had the markers for Hashimoto’s Disease (hypo). Sure enough, within six weeks of starting medication, my thyroid function swung from being immensely hyperactive to immensely hypoactive. The symptoms were just as extreme, only opposite.
Going forward, this means that I get monthly labs completed so that my medications can be adjusted accordingly. It’s a guessing game as much as science, and I’m just along for the ride. After seven months of treatment, some symptoms have leveled off but the one that remains is fatigue. I'm tired from the moment I wake up, no matter how long or well I may have slept.
An additional concern was about the potential impacts of my condition to my cardiovascular system, so now I am also seeing a cardiologist to undergo all types of testing, such as an echocardiogram, wearing two-week Holter monitor and undergoing a nuclear stress test. My results will be revealed sometime next month.
It’s so hard to wait for answers when we don’t feel well, but wait we must, as the healthcare wheel turns ever so slowly.
I have been told that the majority of thyroid issues can be controlled, with time and proper medical management, so I will cling to our most valuable resources: patience and hope! Those are the two most important qualities you can possess when dealing with any type of chronic illness or pain.
Whether you are currently living with a thyroid disorder or have some unexplained symptoms that could be thyroid related, NOW is the time to be aware and take the necessary steps towards wellness.