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 learn for a living. I distill my research into useful blog entries. Geek, parent, knitter, yogi, writer, educator, businessperson, health advocate, & skating nerd.