Last month I wrote about how I changed my life in 14 days, and while those changes I made were all positive and sorely needed in my life, the positive effects seemed to have been temporary and somewhat short-lived. While just a few weeks ago I was feeling recharged and ridiculously productive compared to my previous self, the past couple of weeks have seen a resurgence of my sluggishness and inability to be efficient throughout the day. But at least I have somewhat of an answer as to why my moods, energy levels, and productivity are once again on a decline, and with that comes some relief.
After numerous doctor’s appointments with various highly trained specialists and over 25 different blood tests, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, a thyroid condition where my immune system is literally attacking my thyroid gland. Sadly, this condition seems all too common these days. Upon learning of my diagnosis, I first let some friends and family know, and then I hit up social media, a place where I knew I would get real-life feedback and first-hand accounts as opposed to just clinical definitions and treatment protocol. Upon announcing the news to my crowd of readers on my health- and food-focused Instagram account, I got a whopping response from over 60 women in my small community who either suffer from Hashimoto’s disease or some other related thyroid condition. As it turns out, over 10 million Americans suffer from this autoimmune disease, and as is the case with all thyroid disorders, it’s seven times more common in women than in men. Over 200 million people worldwide suffer from some sort of thyroid disease, 30 million just in the US, and women approaching middle age are much more at risk.
So what exactly is the thyroid gland anyhow, and is it really all that important?
My dad was diagnosed with hypothyroidism many years ago, and being young and blasé about most things, I didn’t give much thought, concern, or empathy to his situation. But now after experiencing it first-hand, I have come to find that the little butterfly-shaped gland at the front of our throat is kind of a big deal. Turns out, it has a role to play in every single cell of our body and influences the function of some pretty vital organs including the liver, heart, brain, kidneys, and skin. Like a car engine, the thyroid sets the pace at which your body operates, and when functioning correctly, the gland manufactures enough thyroid hormone to prompt your cells to perform each important function at a certain rate. When things go wrong and the thyroid is damaged for whatever reason, your thyroid may either produce too much or too little of their necessary hormones, in turn slowing down or speeding up your body’s functions.
When hormone production is hampered and in turn slows down, the result is hypothyroidism, and when it produces too much it’s called hyperthyroidism. In the case of Hashimoto’s disease, your immune system malfunctions and the antibodies that are normally used to fight off infection and bacteria see the thyroid gland as a foreign invader, thus attacking it. This is an autoimmune disease that slowly wreaks havoc on your thyroid gland, destroying it over time and leading to hypothyroidism. Alternately, Graves’ disease is when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing it to rev up and produce too much thyroid hormones, leading to hyperthyroidism.
As women, we often jokingly refer to moodiness and irritability as a simple result of hormones and that time of the month, so is it really that big of a deal if the gland isn’t producing enough or too much hormone? The effects of a thyroid condition go far beyond just occasional moodiness, though, and deserve attention and treatment because they can affect our overall well-being, as well as have some larger implications like increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and even infertility. As the Thyroid Awareness website points out, “If your thyroid gland isn’t working properly, neither are you.”
Signs and symptoms that indicate a thyroid condition.
It’s important to note here that because the thyroid largely regulates hormonal function, it can affect people differently. For me, a seemingly random string of illnesses including chronic strep throat that resulted in chronic fatigue is what led us down the road to diagnosis. Just because you may not exhibit all the textbook symptoms that follow doesn’t mean your thyroid is perfectly fine. If only a couple of the symptoms listed ring true, it may be worth checking out, as a thyroid screening is a simple process and covered by most health insurance plans.
Learn from me, your tiredness may be more than just “mom fatigue.”
Here are just a few of the more prominent signs and symptoms that indicate a thyroid condition:
- Chronic fatigue
- Increased anxiety, irritability
- Weight gain or weight loss, despite either eating less or sustaining a healthy appetite
- Brain fog, forgetfulness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sore muscles and joints
- Increased frequency of miscarriages
- Dry skin, brittle hair
- Irregular menstrual cycles, and/or heavy bleeding during menstruation
Because hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are exactly the opposite, you may notice completely opposite symptoms. What I’ve been telling readers and friends, though, is if you’re feeling “off” and you notice a remarkable loss of energy, increase in bodily pain, and feel in general like you’re either extremely anxious or have “foggy” brain, a malfunctioning thyroid may be to blame. Here is a full list of the symptoms of an under-active thyroid and over-active thyroid. I can’t reiterate enough that you don’t have to answer yes to each of these symptoms to be suffering from either hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or one of its related diseases including Graves’ and Hashimoto’s. As I explained to my husband in the months leading up to this diagnosis, I know my body better than anyone, and I just knew something was different. So even though I wasn’t suffering from weight gain, a puffy face, or dry skin, I still knew that my body wasn’t working properly and it was worth looking into.
At the end of the day, a thyroid condition isn’t the end of the world, and if treated by a thorough and caring doctor, it’s pretty manageable (or so I hear — I’m not at that stage yet). But it’s the months and sometimes years before a diagnosis is made that can wreak havoc on your day-to-day life. Feeling exhausted, unproductive, anxious, and quite possibly in chronic pain that seemingly came from nowhere is a sucky way to live, especially if you previously led a somewhat vibrant, active life. For a brief moment in time, before my diagnosis, I was sure I was going a little crazy, or even worse, just getting old. I’m glad to hear though that at 38, I may still have some good days left in me.
Checking on the health of your thyroid is as simple as getting a blood test to check your TSH levels, and if you have an accommodating doctor, go ahead and ask for a full thyroid panel screening to be completed, which tests for the thyroid antibodies as well as the individual thyroid hormones T3 and T4. As is the case with myself, my TSH levels were only slightly off, but because I was persistent and asked for further testing, we were able to see that the antibodies which cause Hashimoto’s were indeed present and quite high in fact.
Had I not pushed for a full thyroid screening, we may still be scratching our heads.
Us ladies have it hard enough, fighting glass ceilings, wiping butts and cleaning food off the floor on a daily basis. Take care of yourself and don’t be so quick to pass off your everyday fatigue and general moodiness as just a part of life. Stop and listen to yourself, take some time to really get in tune with your body, and if you have a hunch that maybe passing out at 8pm on a daily basis isn’t really you, make an appointment to see your doctor. It just may be the best thing you can do for your own sanity — and the well-being of your whole family.
*Disclaimer: I am not a physician and as always you should consult your doctor for any health concerns.
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