There is a plethora of information on the subject of a malfunctioning thyroid. At first, I could not discern what new information (if any) I could actually contribute. It took a lot of digging when comparing my story to others and then I saw what was missing.
What you can expect from this blog.
My specific experience (history, symptomology, and treatment), generalized characteristics and information regarding hypothyroidism (HT for simplicity), and my hard-learned advice that I do not see related anywhere when in discussion of HT.
This blog does not address the specifics of: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, thyroid cancer, Iodine deficiency type, Subacute Thyroiditis (inflamed thyroid), or Congenital Thyroiditis (partial gland). My account is strictly from the POV of having hypothyroidism, caused by genetics and environment.
WHAT A HEALTHY THYROID IS RESPONSIBLE FOR IN THE HUMAN BODY
The thyroid’s purpose is a major one. The thyroid produces the hormones responsible for regulating the METABOLIC RATE. What does that include?
– Heart rate
– Body temperature
– Digestive function
– Muscle control
– Bone maintenance
– Cholesterol levels
– Menstrual cycles in women
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland, located just under the Larynx, and wraps around the windpipe. I see the thyroid as an alarmingly delicate gland for it’s location:
HOW IT WORKS (SIMPLIFIED)
- Hypothalamus – releases TRH (Thyroid Releasing Hormone)
- TRH goes to the Pituitary gland. The Pituitary gland releases TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone).
- TSH (measurable) is sent to the Thyroid, signaling the release of T4 (measurable) which converts into T3 (measurable).
- T4 and T3 (the principal hormone) are released into the body, absorbed and power the bodily functions.
WHAT CONTRIBUTES TO TRIGGERING HYPOTHYROIDISM
It is possible for an otherwise healthy person to become hypo. Between genetics, lifestyle choices (including pregnancy), nutritional deficiencies, and life stress it is entirely possible to develop a “temperamental thyroid” to full-on “lifelong dysfunction.” There are degrees. Some people recover and do not require long-term treatment. Others, like myself, will need medical intervention indefinitely.
Some standard factors include:
- Genetic/Family Hx (that’s a big one)
- Weight (under and over)
- Nutrient deficiency (iodine, selenium, zinc, vitamins E, B2, B3, B6 and C, all support the thyroid throughout its functions)
- Calorie deficiency
- Chronic stress (suppresses thyroid function)
- Chronic infection (suppresses thyroid function)
STANDARD SYMPTOMS OF HYPOTHYROIDISM
The longer HT goes untreated, the worse the symptoms become and can eventually lead to coma and possibly death.
With these specifics, you can see how crucial your metabolic rate is.
- Fatigue. Casual at first and then becomes a constant.
- Weight gain. Casual at first then accelerates.
- Mood, often reported (and even misdiagnosed) as a low-level depression. The symptoms of fatigue and weight gain also contribute to the misdiagnosis.
- Cold. You feel cold constantly, mostly in the extremities.
- Cognitive problems such as brain fog, memory problems, and reduced attention span.
- Slow heart rate. Unless you exercise regularly, or are an athlete, a low resting heart rate of 40-55 beats per minute is not the norm. 60-80 beats per minute is the norm for most adults when at rest.
- Decreased sweat secretion.
- Shortness of breath with little exertion.
- Water retention. The face (particularly around the eyes and cheeks) and appendages will become visibly puffy with excess water. (see example pics)
- Infrequent, to greatly reduced, bowel movements. Without the necessary hormone signals, your body will not be able to evacuate excess water and waste, also contributing to the weight gain.
- Muscle weakness. Without sufficient thyroid hormone, muscles feel weak.
- Excessive dry skin.
- Regular headaches.
- Specific to women, periods become inconsistent in timing and duration.
MY FAMILY HISTORY
I was well into my 30s when I discovered that both my maternal and paternal grandmother’s have HT. Not only my grandmothers, my father and little brother (more than 15 years my junior) also received treatment for HT. It wasn’t until I started informing my family of my condition that I was informed about the faulty thyroids running rampant in my genetic line.
When I asked WHY I wasn’t informed about this sooner (as this information could have influenced many of my life choices that also lead to my thyroid crashing) my father simply shrugged. My grandmothers came from that mindset that anything that makes you seem “different” in society is best kept to the self. You don’t share. Period. My dad followed suit, as did my younger brother. I’m not going to indulge in this sentiment, simply put: TELL YOUR STORIES. Do not support passive ignorance.
MY LIFE CHOICES
I’ve addressed this over a few blogs now so I will summarize, I was an overweight child, turned into an obese young adult. Being overweight or obese does not automatically set you up for HT but it doesn’t help either, especially if your genetic background is peppered with thyroid issues.
Being overweight or underweight means the the body is having to work harder in order to function, especially when it comes to the metabolic rate. I put my body under extreme stress when I was overweight, and when I was briefly underweight. My thyroid had a lot to cope with over a period of decades. I didn’t notice the early symptoms because putting on a few pounds and looking puffy were norms throughout my life. With anxiety disorder, it is inevitable that I feel down for always being high-strung. Feeling a little tired, not being able to focus…those were just my “down days.”
I learned I was HT the hard way, I was nearly hospitalized for it.
The specific choices I made (and life circumstances) that contributed to my HT:
- Overweight. I didn’t address my weight problem until I was 26.
- Underweight. When I did address my weight, I did it wrong. I was influenced by The Biggest Loser and decided to go on a VLCD (very low calorie diet) coupled with intensive exercise, and it worked. I went from 310 lbs to 145 lbs in roughly 18 months. This is when I first experienced being perpetually cold. BTW, I am a wide-framed 5’9 female. I had no business being 145 lbs (despite what the BMI states, which is a faulty form of measurement, but that’s a different topic). I did not consume enough calories and this is when my thyroid, already stressed from years of being overweight, started to wear down further.
- Life stresses. By ages 28-29, I graduated from my master’s degree program, transplanted cities for career reasons, met, engaged, and got married to my husband, and left one employer for another. That’s a lot achieved in less than 24 months. The weight started sliding back on. Slow at first and then rapidly. I couldn’t lose it no matter how hard I tried. I assumed it was stress. By my wedding, the swelling in my face was visible (see pic).
- Pregnancy, age 31. From start to finish, the thyroid works overtime to sustain a pregnancy. My obstetrician told me nearly 9% of women (likely with predisposed HT problems) who successfully become pregnant and carried to term find that their thyroid crashed. The underlying HT can be a delayed as a diagnosis since emotionally, mentally, and physically HT mimics depression, and so a woman who has recently given birth can be perceived as postpartum. I was initially told what I was experiencing (extreme weight gain, lethargy, and an inability to concentrate) was “baby blues,” not as serious as postpartum, just a fluctuation of hormones. I was told – repeatedly – that my body would go back to normal. I believed this for nearly a year.
- At age 32, I move cities again, this time with a 6 month old. I’m not sleeping at night, but I’m tired all day. I find it difficult to respond to my baby. I can’t seem to keep my thoughts together. I’m barely eating, still exercising, but I’m not losing weight, in fact, I’m gaining. During this later stage, I once put on 7 lbs in one week. My bowel movements came down to once a week, if that. One day, it was a temperature of 107 outside and I was inside my apartment, on my couch, wearing two layers of sweat clothes, teeth chattering. The headaches had become daily.
In 5 years, I went from 145 lbs to 280 lbs, obese once more. That day on the couch, while the city was being scorched, my insides felt ice cold.
I crawled into a nearby doctor’s office and the internist knew something was very wrong. She later told me she contemplated having me admitted to a hospital the same day, my presentation was so poor. She put in a same day order for blood work. My T4 and T3 hormones were in the unsafe levels. To her credit, she got my blood work done and my prescription going all in the same day.
ADVICE & TREATMENT
I’ve earned this advice the hard way. If you suspect HT in yourself, get your blood work done MORE THAN ONCE. The best day to do blood work is the day you least feel like getting out of bed. When you’re having one of your “bad days” is the best day to get blood work done.
Let me tell you why.
I was tested for HT three times in my life. The first time, I was in college. My numbers came back “within range.” The second time I was tested, my numbers came back “within range.” By the time my numbers reflected the disorder, I was so far gone I was on the verge of hospitalization, according to my doctor. I could have had this nonsense stopped while I was in college, before I pursued the disastrous VLCD and made things a lot worse.
Why didn’t the TSH, T4, and T3 reflect accurately in the prior blood tests?
On those two prior tests, my thyroid was doing its job within its cycle of activity and thus my numbers reflected “within range.” After years of having too many non-functioning days, or poorly functioning days, without medical support, my thyroid gave up. My thyroid will not be the kind that recovers. In fact, I will likely have to have it surgically removed at some point in my life. With treatment, my thyroid is like a car battery that needs to be “jumped” daily and for the rest of my life. The longer you go untreated, the more difficult the long-term consequences.
So, again, do your best to get blood work done on a “bad day” and do it more than once so you can rest your mind on the subject.
There are several forms of prescription-based treatments. I went through several types and doses before I found a treatment I, as a whole person, responded positively to. Some of the medications amplified my headaches, others caused intense stomach pains, others weren’t working with efficiency, others were too efficient and triggered hyper reactions. It took years to sort out. I’ve changed doctors several times too as so many are only willing to try medications they’ve worked with in the past. It took a long time to adjust me but we got there. I’m now down to once-a-year blood tests. If you’re first starting out treatment, expect blood work every 6 weeks.
Current Meds (daily):
Current Supplements (daily):
Vitamin D (if you have HT, you likely have a vitamin D deficiency)
Vitamin E (supports thyroid function)
I’m down 90 pounds, ideally I will lose another 20 but I’m not in a rush. In the past, I felt my best at 170 lbs, but in the meantime, I’m happy building healthy muscle and building that mind-body connection I neglected in my 20s.
I’m alive and able to raise my child in good health, that’s what counts.
That’s my experience with hypothyroidism.
Any hard earned advice you’d like to share?