I roll over in bed towards the warm sunlight spilling through the windows after a sound seven hours of sleep — exhausted. Reluctantly, I peel myself off the soft and cozy sheets and begin the day; including spending a good ten minutes plucking a few white hairs from my eyebrows (the only place I have white hairs regularly pop up at this time). I continue on with the day feeling sluggish and fatigued — struggling to focus and compute some of the simplest things throughout the day. The scribbled-down paper store list eventually turned into my online grocery pick-up, but I still could not click the magic Place Order button. There were important items missing for most of the meals I planned to cook, yet the next steps to finalize the plan were elusive to me. Feelings of frustration and worthlessness as a caregiver were brimming inside me. Was this just a bad day? Sudden illness? Rainy Monday morning blues? Am I just lazy? While all of those scenarios are likely, for me it is usually an indication that something is, yet again, changing with my thyroid.
Raising kids is exhausting work, but it is important to recognize when exhaustion makes a transformation from lack of sleep to something more. According to Thyroid.org, “One woman in eight will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.” (“General Information.” American Thyroid Association, 2021, www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/.) Moms tend to just keep going; keep pushing themselves and toss it up to stress or having kids. Knowing the symptoms of thyroid disease can help you identify potential issues more quickly and take action.
“One woman in eight will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.”“General Information.” American Thyroid Association, 2021, www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/
Your thyroid is the very important “butterfly-shaped” endocrine gland in your neck that makes two important hormones: Triiodothyrondine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). The hormones travel throughout your body and control your metabolism (the way your body uses energy), growth and development, and body temperature, among other important functions.
Problems develop when the thyroid gland makes too many hormones (called hyperthyroidism) or too few hormones (hypothyroidism). In hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease is a common cause, although a condition called toxic nodular goiter can also create an overproduction of the hormones.
The opposite condition, known as hypothyroidism, is when the thyroid gland does not make enough hormones for the body. It is typically caused by an autoimmune disorder known as Hashimotos. Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism require blood tests to measure the TSH and thyroid hormone levels. Medications can help control these conditions; allowing the body to produce the correct amount of thyroid hormones.
I received a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s disease in 2014 — 2 years after my last child was born. My immune system was actively attacking my thyroid, and destroying tissue, thus creating the condition of hypothyroidism. My body had been at war within for years — and I was ready for change.
Due to family background (my mom, grandmother, an aunt, an uncle, and likely my undiagnosed brother, all have hypothyroidism), I was fairly confident that I was destined for my turn (too bad it wasn’t something great I was destined to receive). I had symptoms beginning in my early twenties, which, on occasion, I mentioned to my doctor. With the doctor not taking the bait, I shrugged it off and did not pursue the issue. Tossing it up to not being as motivated as I should be, I kept plowing through the day-to-day and trying harder — unsuccessfully.
After having kids, the symptoms only increased in intensity and oddness. Although after my first child I felt certain it was the hormones typically affected by pregnancy, and thought little of it. A plethora of other situations was happening during that time frame, so my weird symptoms just seemed like icing on the cake. Then, after my last child and more changes, I began questioning my family about their symptoms and researching for myself. I started generating a long list of evidence. As I combed through the information I realized that I could check off just about every symptom on the paper. Odd and disconnected indications that were bothersome and unusual — many that had been present for years:
- Family history of thyroid disease
- History of miscarriage
- Gaining weight inappropriately
- Constipated (severely)
- Low body temperature
- Dry skin
- Brittle nails (mine were peeling off in layers)
- Hoarse voice
- Puffy face
- Crazy menstrual cycles
- Forgetfulness (even beyond my mommy brain moments)
- Losing more hair than normal
- Sick more often (colds, sinus infections, etc)
- Dry eyes
- Twitching in one eye
- Eyes very sensitive to light
- Ringing in ears
- Heart palpitations
- Shaky hands
- Difficulty swallowing (like a lump in throat or severely dry throat)
- Dry mouth
This wrap list is a highlight of my distressing experiences. Often the lists I researched online included multiple pages of signs and symptoms because the thyroid hormones control so many various areas of the body.
Equipped with a list of the crazy things that had been happening to me in hand, I felt that I had proof that it wasn’t in my head. I printed off the invaluable list, checked off every symptom that related to my misery, and headed to my family doctor. Previously, I had testing completed at the same doctor’s office with the basic run of blood work used to check thyroid hormone levels. These basic tests never gave evidence that my levels were off in the past so I was determined to get something more. I pushed the checklist in front of my doctor and asked her what more we could check. After several episodes of raised eyebrows, she handed the document back and offered a referral to an endocrinologist, a doctor who specialized in the body’s glands and hormones. If this specialist deemed me perfectly healthy then I would rest my case and accept the title of lazy mom.
Thankfully, the endocrinologist ran the full gamut of tests, coming back with impressive numbers showing just how far off my levels were, making me feel justified in my search for answers. I was able to start the medication to keep my hormone levels where they need to be (this requires rechecks at least annually). It is not uncommon that symptoms return and an adjustment needs to be made to the medication.
Although some medical professionals disagree, I do seem to find additional relief with eliminating certain foods. A fair and unfortunate forewarning — my eliminate list looks like my PMS go-to snack list including bread, sweets, fried foods, and highly processed snacks. The avoidance of these particular foods is difficult, however, my personal experience is that gluten is my biggest culprit. After many trials and tests in hopes that it is a coincidence, I eventually end with the same conclusion – gluten brings back some of my symptoms.
If you think you may have a thyroid disorder do some research (http://womenshealth.gov is a good place to start). Print a list of symptoms and check off what applies to you, then take the list to your doctor. If prior testing resulted in no evidence of thyroid disease but you still suspect you may have thyroid issues, don’t stop there. Go to a specialist — be persistent to get help.
We have to give ourselves credit for all the things we do for others, but we have to take care of ourselves in order to continue doing those things. Our bodies are amazing, and it is fascinating that such a small organ located in the neck can control so many functions of the body. However, it is miserable when that gland is off on a wild ride at our expense.
“Up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.”“General Information.” American Thyroid Association, 2021, www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/
It’s certainly feasible that many of the undiagnosed cases are due to the fact that the problem is never mentioned. Women keep pushing forward, and we are quick to criticize ourselves — thinking we are just not doing enough when in reality someone with thyroid disease is being internally attacked and struggling. Guilt is an enemy because it makes us feel that we should be doing more, even though we just can not. When someone is battling thyroid disease it is then even easier to sink into those feelings of guilt, and even depression.
Oftentimes if we do speak up it can get lost in a misdiagnosis or inadequate testing, and we give up (I did for years). Be tenacious in your quest to care for yourself. We should also bring this disease to light, especially in our mom communities, and recognize that so many other women (and men) are dealing with the same obstacles, and need answers, or support. Speak up — for yourself or someone you love.