My Lazy Thyroid
Like many women, I found out that I had thyroid issue, specifically hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, when I was having a hard time losing weight. At that time, in spite of a more-healthy-than-not diet and increased exercise, I was tired and the scale wasn’t moving. It took me a couple of years to get from feeling generally awful, to feeling more like myself again. Here’s a once over on hypothyroidism, causes and basic treatment options.
In my mom’s day, people whispered about their plump aunt who couldn’t help being overweight because she had a “glandular problem.” Now, we call that hypothyroidism. In short, the thyroid (a butterfly-shaped gland around the throat) isn’t doing its job of creating sufficient thyroid hormone to keep the body running smoothly. Thyroid hormone impacts most of the body’s systems, including metabolic rate.
Ergo, the aforementioned heavy aunt had a body that was out of whack and made it difficult (or nigh impossible) for her to burn off those nagging extra pounds.
Commonality and Causes of Hypothyroidism
According to the American Thyroid Association, in the United States, as many as 20 million people have a thyroid related disease, and of those 60% may have no clue there is an issue. As an extra added bonus, women are way more likely to develop a thyroid condition (like 5 to 8 times more likely) and 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid disease at some point in their lives. Thyroid conditions can include hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid gland) or thyroid cancer. Yay womanhood!
As for causes, no one really knows for sure. (That’s not particularly comforting.) Like with most illnesses, stress is certainly a factor, as is genetics—and being a woman makes it more likely, too. Some will say that toxins in our environment—including our personal care products and cleaning supplies--put us at higher risk. Increased gluten in our food isn’t doing us any favors either.
How Hypothyroidism Feels
The quick answer is--not good.
For me, I was just generally tired and run down. (Which, unfortunately, can just be caused by adulthood and the pressures of raising a family, going to work and trying to carve out time to do something for yourself that doesn’t involve the other two.) In addition to having issues losing weight, I started gaining more weight around the middle.
Since I was in my early 40s, I originally assumed that my symptoms were menopause related. To my surprise, as I researched, I discovered that there are 300+ possibly symptoms of hypothyroidism including hot flashes, excessive sweating, having issues concentrating and trouble sleeping. I also realized that depression, like the days when it was all I could do to force myself to complete routine tasks, were hypothyroidism related. On the weirder end, excessive crying (which made work an absolute joy for my poor, mostly male coworkers), sensitivity to light, being easily startled and having a hard time breathing deeply, were all due to my under active thyroid. Again, yay womanhood!
The Trick That Is Diagnosing Hypothyroidism
Getting diagnosed with hypothyroidism is often difficult. For one, many doctors are resistant to testing for it—partly due to what seems to be a general bias against women saying that they don’t feel well and writing that off as invalid. Having a family history of hypothyroidism (which I have, but didn’t realize I had until after I was diagnosed) can help persuade doctors to run tests. Fortunately, I have a supportive doctor who was willing to give me a TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) test during more than one annual physical exam. In the end, it was nice to at have a for-real diagnosis and the validation that something was actually medically wrong. I was happy to have a specific problem to solve.
As for treatment, prescription medication replacing your missing thyroid is diagnosed, and is a must to get your body working properly. For most people, taking medication for the rest of your life is the treatment plan.
The current go-to drug is Levothyroxine (often as the name brand, Synthroid), which is a synthetic hormone. Another treatment option, which was standard prior to synthetic thyroid, is natural desiccated thyroid (often as name brand Armor Thyroid or Nature-Throid). Natural desiccated thyroid is derived from pigs, and has shown to have more favorable results for many women. On an ongoing basis, the TSH test, and additional tests, are completed on a regular basis to make sure that levels are in line with the reference levels.
In some underdeveloped nations, hypothyroidism may be caused by an iodine deficiency. In the United States, given our sodium laden diet, most people who exhibit symptoms of hypothyroidism actually have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease where your body’s immune system decides that your thyroid is the enemy and must be destroyed. Hashimoto's is the underlying cause of hypothyroidism.
Advocating for Your Own Health
A family friend of mine battled cancer successfully for several years--much longer that her health care providers through possible. From her struggles, I learned the importance of being my own health care advocate. While I'm sure my doctors care about my health, I am also certain that I care about my own well-being more than anyone else can. Fortunately, my pre-disposition to researching and learning helped me to seek out a specialist, change medications and take additional steps to make my life better above and beyond just the medication.
What Do You Think?
Have you been diagnosed with hypothyroidism? What was your experience like? Share your thoughts, opinions and experiences in the comments section below.
I am a parent to a teenage daughter. [Insert appropriate level of panic here.]
Personally, I don't think most people really know what they are doing when it comes to parenting. I always felt like there would be a magical day when I felt grown up and like I knew all of the secrets of the world. Suffice it to say that it hasn't happened. Regardless, I have a child, and she's growing up, so I've continued to make things up as I've gone along, and it's been going pretty well. So far, she's a likable, considerate person who gets decent grades, has a lot of interests, and has friends whose parents I don't hate. As an extra added bonus, she gets along with me as a mom and a tolerable adult figure. I consider that a win.
With that less than stellar resume of my parental qualifications, here are my top 3 pieces of unsolicitied life advice for my teenage daughter. Who knows. Maybe your child, or any random adult for that matter, will learn a little something.
1. You actually don't "HAVE TO" do most things.
There are some basic life things that we all have to do--but there's a whole lot that we actually don't have to do, but that we do out of obligation. Let me rephrase. You do not have to do everything people ask or tell you to do, like or try. You get to say no and you don't even have to give said person a reason why either. How cool is that?
You don't have to like a band, hate a person, identify as gay/bi/straight, try a drug, do a shot, dye your hair, eat food, take a dare or do anything physically that you don't want to do. People of all ages will try to tell you otherwise, and they are wrong. This also goes for hugging someone creepy, eating a dessert that a coworker made or having a second helping of casserole because someone says "You are too skinny!" People often want some sort of validation for how they live their lives, and they will try to get someone to affirm their own choices by choosing them, too. You don't have to be that someone.
The flip side of this is that other people also don't have to do everything you tell them they have to do either. We each get to make our own choices, and take a "No" or "No thank you" or "I don't think so" as a real answer. Set the personal boundaries that are right for you, and accept other people's boundaries, too.
2. Plan ahead--at least a little bit.
Children and adults alike each deal with "emergencies" on a regular basis--many of which wouldn't have had to be emergencies with just a wee bit of forethought. Many day to day "emergencies" can be mitigated by having your cell phone, $10 in cash, and your house keys.
On the low end, here are a few super-easy tips from me to you. Bring a towel with you into the bathroom. Brush your teeth before you put on your lipstick. Put on your knee pads before your wrist guards. A little forethought goes a long way.
On to bigger and better things. Many other perceived "emergencies" have only become so because of neglecting to look ahead a few days to see what is coming up or a general lack of communication. On Sunday, look ahead at your week. Give me a heads up that you have a band concert, volleyball game, birthday party or sleepover at least 2 days before it happens. If I have to fill out paperwork, or give you permission to do something, or figure out any logistics, make that a week. All those activities that you are involved it don't just happen. It takes a bit to get a doctor's appointment for an athletics physical or request a copy of your vaccination records or lay hands on the special whatever-it-is that you want to get whats-her-name for whatever thing it is she's celebrating.
Also, just know that if you don't plan ahead, I am at the point where I'm done making your poor planning my emergency. I've got things going on too--must of which I had to schedule and arrange to accommodate all of your activities that I actually knew about.
Overall, take responsibility for your own life because no one is going to care more about your activities than you do. Get a calendar and write things down. While I'm temporarily still your chauffeur, I am not your concierge.
3. Seek out help when you need it.
Everyone needs help from an adult sometimes. Everyone. You can talk to me, or if you'd rather, try out these people: your dad, your step-dad, my best friend, your best friend's mom, a teacher at school who you like. Talking to your friends is great, but sometimes you need an adult opinion. (I have 30 years of life experience on you--which means I've been through a few things that are totally new to you.) You are fortunate that you have many, many people who care about you who want you to be well. Even if you think it's the most horrible thing that anyone could ever do, let's talk and figure out what's next. Give me a chance to help before you do something extreme like running away, hurting yourself or hurting others. I am also happy to share my list of stupid things that I did as a child (and some after that) that I also thought were super horrible then that you will find laughably lame, now.
If you know of someone who you think needs help, tell one of us about that, too. I am happy to talk to your friends, their friends, other people's parents, or whoever else you think is struggling to help them get through it--whatever it might be. Life is often hard, and going through it alone makes it even harder. Let one of us help--which includes picking you up and helping you get out of a messed up situation at some god awful hour in the morning (which I will happily do whenever it is needed.) I'm also not going to yell at you or give you a hard time. Again. Here to help.
What is your top "adulting" advice for others?
I learn for a living. I distill my research into useful blog entries. Geek, parent, knitter, yogi, writer, educator, businessperson, health advocate, & skating nerd.