Back in January I discovered my thyroid problem and started on medication. I naively thought I'd be better in no time, but it hasn't been that simple. I've since learned that it's a very complicated problem and has no easy answers, but I wanted to share with you what I've learned. I'm not a doctor or a nurse, but as a friend, I feel I can at least offer a little insight and advice. I don't want to be defined by this disease, and I don't plan to whinge about it forever, but I feel like I have to try to educate folks because after all, if Oprah won't, someone has to.
Hashimoto's Disease was discovered and named in the 1920s, but still no one knows exactly what causes it. It seems to be hereditary and is triggered at times of hormonal flux like pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. It starts with your immune system attacking your thyroid gland. Sometimes the inflammation is so bad a goiter will develop, but sometimes there are no symptoms. Even if the sufferer has symptoms and goes to a doctor they are frequently told that the symptoms are simply "age related" and to "deal with it". And even if a woman can convince her doctor to run tests, they often appear normal.
The thyroid sometimes responds to the attack by upping its output of hormones resulting hyperthyroid which causes heart palpitations, weight loss, agitation, and anxiety attacks. Often these symptoms merely reinforce the doctor's opinion that the patient is a little loony and too, too often, antidepressants are prescribed. But of course they don't fix the problem, they merely mask it. So while the patient feels a little more in control, the disease is getting worse, the thyroid gland is losing its battle and the hypothyroid stage begins. This is when the thyroid fails to make enough hormone and the sufferer starts slowing down little by little. Now the patient begins to feel cold all the time, may be constipated, starts to forget things, and feels tired all the time. They may also have high cholesterol, aches and pains, fluid retention, and weight gain. The slow metabolism often leads to feelings of worthlessness, sadness and depression.
Pretty much all this happened to me gradually and with little notice. I just thought that's how it felt to get old. There were many mornings when I'd wake up and my first thought would be, "I hate my life." It was awful! So if you have these symptoms and suspect hypothyroidism, take this simple test. Get a mercury thermometer, shake it down below 95 degrees and put it by your bedside table. First thing in the morning, before you get up and without moving around too much, put it in your armpit next to your skin. Leave it there for 10 minutes. Do this for three days and write down your temperature. If your temperature is 97.6 or below for three days in a row, your thyroid probably isn't functioning properly.
Your next step would be to print out the Hashimoto's symptoms, circle the ones you have and take it with you to your doctor. Make sure your doctor listens to your symptoms and checks all your reflexes. Tell her about the morning temperatures. Insist on not only the TSH test, but also T4, T3, and Thyroid Antibodies blood tests. The first doctor I saw, who was an endocrinologist, saw me for about 7 minutes, didn't listen to me or check my reflexes, and didn't do the antibody test. After taking medication for a few weeks I called him one afternoon, terribly depressed, and asked him if I should increase my medication. He said, "Your depression has nothing to do with your hypothyroidism. You'll have to see someone else about that. In fact, looking at your blood work, you should probably decrease your medication."
Needless to say, he is no longer my doctor. I honestly don't think anyone who has suffered this kind of chemical depression can understand it. I am normally an energetic, active, optimistic person, but with decreased thyroid hormones, I felt like I was dragging a dead whale around. I just felt HORRIBLE. I know this is heresy, but I increased my medication myself and in a few days I started feeling better and soon I found a new doctor. The new doctor actually listened to me and asked lots of questions. He also examined me thoroughly and checked my reflexes. And he upped my prescription and did the antibody test. Then he actually called me at home to tell me the results. (My antibodies were sky high.) I know I'm not cured and never will be, but I feel like I'm making progress. I'm actually warm now, I have more energy, and I'm no longer depressed.
So here's my final advice. Since this disease is common, causes all kinds of problems, and yet is highly underdiagnosed, we must be our own advocates. We must push our doctors to order the proper tests to explain our symptoms. And if you are diagnosed with Hashimoto's don't be satisfied until you FEEL better, no matter what the simple TSH test says. And if your doctor doesn't listen to you, get another doctor. And read all you can about it, because you need the latest information to make informed choices. Be proactive in your health; stop eating processed foods, sugars, and fast food; add more fresh vegetables, lean meats and fish to your diet; get 30 minutes of exercise every day; take time for relaxing pursuits like music, meditation, or art. And because Hashimoto's is hereditary, educate your daughters about it so they will recognize the symptoms. And spread the word to your friends too, I think there are a lot of women out there that haven't been diagnosed, and no one should suffer with Hashimoto's.