April is National Poetry Month, so it seems fitting to start this post with Sarah Downing's poetic view of thyroid disease (originally posted on the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, Inc. web site):
The Scatter-brained Butterfly
My thyroid's in a state of flux
This situation really sucks
Hypo means I sleep all day
Wasting all my life away
Hyper means I'm constantly tired
But in a strange way I'm still wired
People think that hyper's a dream
But that's not really what it means
My quest for equilibrium
To find a happy medium
Before I can find my way back to myself
Millions of people have either an under- or over-active thyroid, and autoimmune disease is the most common cause (Hashimoto's or Graves' disease). Not only is it common on its own, but many people who have one autoimmune disease may have a thyroid disorder in addition to their primary illness.
Thyroid disease was my first significant illness. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's (autoimmune hypothyroidism) in 2004, when I woke up one day to find that my whole body was having an arthritic reaction. Every joint hurt, and my doctor thought it was rheumatoid arthritis. When the labs came back, though, the only abnormal results were for ANA, anti-Ro/SS-A (an antibody found in people with Sjogren's and/or lupus), and a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level of 5.6.
At that time, 5.6 was just 0.1 out of the lab's listed normal range, which is a big part of why I'm passionate when it comes to treatment of thyroid disorders. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommended narrowing the normal range way back in 2003, but many labs and doctors still haven't gotten up to date! If my TSH has been a teeny bit lower, my doctor wouldn't have known what was wrong with me, just because the lab had the wrong range.
It also frustrates me that doctors often only tell patients that their thyroid levels are "normal" without providing the specific numbers. What's normal actually differs for each person. I feel best when my thyroid levels are mid to high-range and my TSH is under 1. For some people, that would make them feel borderline hyperthyroid. I wish more doctors would encourage their patients to keep track of their blood tests results and the way they feel, because that's really the key to helping patients with thyroid disorders. You can find information about the AACE's recommendations (of a TSH between 0.5 and 2.5 mIU/L) in this Thyroid Today newsletter: http://www.thyroidtoday.com/TTLibrary/current/AACE%20Newsletter.pdf
A lot of hypothyroidism symptoms can be brushed off as age-related, which is another problem. It's easy to dismiss complaints of weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, memory/concentration issues, dry skin, irritability, etc.
Hyperthyroidism is less difficult to get diagnosed, but the treatment is often more invasive and complicated. Hyperthyroidism leads to weight loss, nervousness, trembling, bulging eyes, and more.
I do pretty well on levoxyl, a synthetic thyroid hormone (T4), though some people need both thyroid hormones (T3 and T4). I still have to get my blood tested annually, but I've been lucky that any problems related to my thyroid are mostly under control at this point.
Have you had any thyroid issues? What kind of monitoring and/or treatments have worked for you?