Thyroid disease can take a toll on your life in so many ways. Every person’s experience is different. Some people find that they don’t have the same mental clarity they used to. Others find that they are constantly fatigued. Others experience dramatic changes in weight. Some people have sleep disturbances. Some people have depression. The list goes on.
The symptoms are also easily confused with a number of other diseases. Some people with thyroid disease go years without getting proper treatment. They receive one wrong diagnosis after another. They try treatments for different diseases their doctors think they might have. But nothing seems to work.
If this sounds familiar, consider thyroid disease as a possibility.
Understanding Your Thyroid
Your thyroid uses iodine and the amino acid tyrosine to make hormones that help to regulate your metabolism. Sometimes, your thyroid becomes overexcited. It produces too much thyroid hormone and kicks your metabolism into overdrive. This is called hyperthyroidism. Typically, you will begin to lose weight, you’ll have trouble sleeping, and you’ll feel agitated and irritable. Your heart might beat faster than usual or irregularly. You also will feel hot much of the time.
Hyperthyroidism can result from inflammation of the thyroid and may resolve itself once the thyroid heals. It can also result from chronic diseases like Graves’ disease. In this case, an anti-thyroid drug is used to bring the thyroid hormones back into balance.
In other cases, the thyroid becomes exhausted and doesn’t do its job as well as it needs to. Your body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone and your metabolism slows down. This is called hypothyroidism. You feel tired and weak, you have trouble focusing, and you might begin to gain weight.
Hypothyroidism is considered an autoimmune disorder. For whatever reason, your body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland and disrupts its function.
Unfortunately, there is no way to restore thyroid function once it is lost. But you can manage the disease by taking a prescription thyroid hormone supplement. This process takes some trial and error to get you feeling back to normal. Too much hormone replacement can mimic hyperthyroidism. Too little won’t correct your symptoms.
There are both natural and synthetic versions of prescription thyroid hormones. With most patients, I see a greater benefit with the natural version, so I always try that first. Some patients do respond better to the synthetic, so if the natural doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to switch. However, give the natural version a try first.
Getting a Proper Diagnosis
If you suspect that you have thyroid disease your first step is do a temperature test. Here’s what to do. Place a thermometer by your bed. In the morning, when you wake, place the thermometer bulb in your armpit. (Make sure there’s not clothing between your skin and the thermometer). Wait ten minutes if you are using a mercury thermometer. For a digital thermometer, wait until it beeps. Record the temperature in a notebook.
Do this every day for three weeks. After three weeks, calculate your average waking temperature. If your average waking temperature falls below the normal range of 97.8 to 98.2, you most likely have a low thyroid. If it falls above, you likely have hyperthyroidism.
Once you’ve done a temperature test, if it supports that you have thyroid disease, visit your doctor and request a TSH test. This test is used to determine if your thyroid is malfunctioning.
Finding out that you have thyroid disease can be scary, but it’s a step to regaining your life, your health, and your sense of self.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.