No truer words could have been spoken than those by my endocrinologist at my appointment this week when she said, "You really don't understand how important the thyroid is until you don't have normal function of it any more." As I said (And have written about here on my blog), I struggled for four years before finally seeking a specialist to deal with my thyroid condition. The first thing we found out was that I was actually suffering from Hashimoto's Hypothyroidism. The blood test ordered measured the antibodies and discovered that I indeed had the autoimmune disease. What did this mean in terms of treatment? Well, actually the same medication (Synthroid) is used, however, since my TSH kept swinging from a hypothyroid state to a state of hyperthyroidism. Now, if you do not know the difference between the two, let me explain it to you in a condensed version. When your body is in a hypothyroid state, you are very lethargic and don't feel like doing much at all. Your extremities might be cold, your hair could start falling out, your skin becomes dry, you gain weight that cannot be lost despite good diet and exercise and there are also depression and anxiety issues you can experience. I have been hypothyroid a lot. In treating this hypothyroid state, I have also been overmedicated many times which has caused me to enter a hyperthyroid state. I you think hypothyroidism is miserable I'm here to tell you that hyperthyroidism is just as miserable. One may experience insomnia, hot flashes, shaky hands, racing heart, diarrhea, loss of hair. Both conditions are unpleasant to say the least.
Whenever someone suffers from either of these conditions, life for them become different. It's difficult to explain, but until you become stable you are simply on edge every single day. Getting up wondering how you will feel. If you will be so tired you cannot stand upright. Or so shaky you cannot relax. Will you feel off-balance? Or be covering up with a blanket one minute and then sweating the next? Your normal has changed. You cry with frustration. You visit doctors who only have but a moment to throw a new dosage of medication at you. If you were once skittish at having your blood drawn, it has now become commonplace for you. That's when you say ENOUGH! That's when I sought the help of an endocrinologist.
Last week marked one year being under the care of an endocrinologist and also one year of being stable in my Hashimoto's Hypothyroidism. On my first visit, the first thing that was found was that I had a sensitivity to the medication I was taking. I simply could not take the same dosage every day. My medication was changed to : 62.5 mcg of Synthroid 5 days a week and 75 mcg of Synthroid 2 days a week. This medication must be taken on an empty stomach, 1 hour before eating in the morning. This is part of my new normal. At my six month check-up my levels were within normal range. Then again at one year they were still within normal range. This was a first for me since they had fluctuated every few months for the past four years. I wanted to high five the doctor!
Although I am stable in my thyroid levels, there are still things that are included in my new normal that must be adhered to daily. Besides taking my medications in a split dosage and on an empty stomach, I take a variety of vitamins: C, E, D3, Fish Oil and recently Vitamin B12 injections. Individuals with Hashimoto's often times have low B12 and D3 levels which cause them to experience fatigue. When my B12 levels were checked I was considered Borderline. Initially, I began taking B12 orally but was still experiencing some fatigue, although my thyroid numbers were normal. That's when I asked my doctor if the injections would have better absorption and she said indeed they would. I took my first injection with no problems. The second one was not so pleasant. I didn't realize that there could be side effects from the injections but believe me there are. I had a mild head ache and nausea on and off for three days. I mean I was truly wondering if this was even worth it when I awoke the next day feeling fine and actually had more energy. OK, so rethinking the dosage and frequency I have decided to not take one every week and half the dosage to see if I can avoid having these side effect again. Nothing says that will work, I will just have to try it and see.
Another thing that my doctor discussed with me was diet. She specifically told me that I needed to stop using any sort of artificial sweeteners. She said that they are not good for the thyroid. She also discussed eating a clean diet. And what that entailed was eating as few processed foods as possible. Now, I had read many articles about diet and the thyroid but I had never been told by a physician that what you ate directly affected your thyroid. I already eat pretty clean: No wheat, no gluten, no soy and no dairy. I will miss my artificial sweeteners and powdered creamer. I am planning on trying a few things, such as honey or coconut milk, to see what I like best in my coffee. Because I really like my coffee. And while we're talking about coffee let me mention the this is something else my thyroid has changed. I can no longer drink regular coffee but have turned to Half-Caff instead. Thank goodness there was another alternative other than Decaf. Full caffeinated coffee makes me very shaky so it was just something that I had to give up. I only have one or two cups in the morning and occasionally a cup in the early afternoon (not after 3 p.m.).
I was talking with a young woman this weekend, only 23 years old and recently married. She was diagnosed a few months ago with Graves Disease, which is also a thyroid condition. We talked about how thyroid issues had changed our lives and what our new normal felt like. At one point she told me she didn't even remember how she used to feel. I agreed with that. I told her that it would get better when she became more stable. Not the old normal but better. We also discussed the genetic link regarding thyroid issues. If you have a family member; grandmother, mother, sister, aunt or cousin who has thyroid problems the chances are that you will too. And, unfortunately, thyroid dysfunction affects more women than men. And then we pondered the "Could've, Should've, Would've". Is there anything I could have done better when I was younger to prevent this? Could I have eaten better earlier in life? Taken more vitamins? And the answer is: I don't know.
What would I suggest that EVERY woman do? ASK your doctor to test your thyroid levels EVERY YEAR at your annual appointment. Because that test is NOT included in the normal blood work your physician does often times. Get your OBGYN to check it. Just simply be aware that you have a thyroid and it can affect your entire body if it gets off balance, especially women entering middle age and those who have a family history of thyroid disease.
I'm continuing the journey and encourage you to do the same. Never give up...