Is It Your Thyroid? Thyroid Awareness Month.

January is thyroid awareness month. Despite the fact that I’ve been taking daily thyroid supplements for almost thirty years, I was not aware of awareness month.  Even worse, like 60% of people who suffer from thyroid issues, I spent years not even being aware that I had an untreated thyroid condition.

So, this Thyroid Awareness Month, I encourage you to be aware of thyroid symptoms all year-long, because although thyroid conditions are common (12% of the US population will develop one,) the health implications of having being hyperthyroid (overactive) or hypothyroid (under active) can impact every part of your body and every part of your life.

According to the American Thyroid Association:

The thyroid’s job is to make thyroid hormones, which are secreted into the blood and then carried to every tissue in the body. Thyroid hormone helps the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working as they should.

Every tissue in the body.  That sounds pretty important, huh? Yet many people suffer from vague, misdiagnosed symptoms for years before getting the proper treatment. For me, that meant spending over a year during college confined to the space between my couch and my bed.

Here are some of the symptoms to look out for

Fatigue? Brain fog? Weight gain? Mood swings?  That sounds like just about every mom I know, so you can see how easy it is to carry on daily life while attributing symptoms to getting older or being busy.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been taking a thyroid supplement called Levothyroxine for almost thirty years. I go in every six months to get a blood test to make sure my levels are good and although I wouldn’t describe myself as a bundle of energy, I’m far from the days in college when I couldn’t walk more than ten feet without having to lie down.  Problem solved, right?

That was until a couple of years ago when I started suffering from horrible anxiety symptoms, (I wrote about it here.)

I started anti-anxiety meds and have been virtually symptom free for the past two years.  Hooray!  But then in the past year I started gaining weight and last month finally went to my doctor about it.  It went a little like this:

Doctor: What are you here for today?

Me: Well, I’ve gained ten pounds in the past several months and I wanted to see if there’s a medical reason.

Doctor: Actually, you’ve gained FIFTEEN pounds in the past year.

Me: You’re a mean doctor.

She went on to try to tell me that, “I’m getting older” and “I’m not technically OVERweight yet” and since my recent thyroid labs looked normal, I should probably just lay off the queso and margaritas for a while.  But then while she was giving me a quick look-over, she noticed some lumpiness around the right side of my neck and suggested that I go get a thyroid ultrasound and meet with an endocrinologist.

Aside from the disturbing sensation of having a lab tech squirt KY lube all over my neck, the thyroid ultrasound was pretty uneventful and in the end just showed what I’ve known all along, that I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (a fancy way of saying that once upon a time, my body’s immune system decided to attack my thyroid, and now it doesn’t work any more.)

The real exciting part was meeting with an endocrinologist – and even learning that there’s such a thing as an endocrinologist.  In addition to confirming my doctor’s discovery that I have a “very easy to feel” thyroid gland (thank you?) she informed me that studies are now showing that some people’s bodies are not good at turning T4 into T3.  To which I responded, “I don’t understand the words coming out of your mouth.”

In the most simple (and potentially inaccurate) terms: The medication I’ve been taking for thirty years gives my body T4. Most people’s bodies take that T4 and turn it into T3, and T3 is the stuff that all your organs actually want and need to work properly. Well, some of us semi-defective humans’ bodies don’t do a good job of turning T4 into T3, so although thirty years of lab tests have shown that I have the right amount of T4 in my body, NO ONE HAS EVER THOUGHT TO CHECK MY F*ING T3 LEVELS, which, as you can probably tell by the all caps, are not optimal.

If you want to learn more about this in official medical terms, I recommend reading this report by Dr. Gary Pepper (there are other similar reports available, but I chose this one because how often do you get to refer to someone named Dr. Pepper?)

Now, in addition to my T4 supplement, I’m on a new T3 supplement, which may or may not make a difference in my weight gain and overall health. But at the very least, I finally have information about a condition that has impacted me for more than half of my life.

So, in honor of this final day of Thyroid Awareness Month, I encourage you to be aware. Be aware of the symptoms of thyroid disorders and just be aware in general when you don’t feel “quite right.”  And if your doctor waves you off or just says “it’s what happens when you’re in your 40s,” get a new doctor, or at the very least, stand up for yourself and your body and get a second opinion and more information.

Be aware. Be informed. You’re the only YOU that you’ve got.

Update: It has now been one year since I wrote this post. The T3 has done the trick and has stopped my weight gain (yay!) but unfortunately my endocrinologist informed me that it’s not a magic-weight-loss pill: I have to lose those 15 pounds the hard way (boo.) But, at least any pounds I gain now are due to my own holiday over-indulgences and not just my body not working properly.

I’ll check back in next year to see how that weight goal is going.

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