About 15 years ago, I went to my doctor and complained bitterly about brain fog, fatigue and general malaise. I was sure it was my thyroid. And sure enough it was.
As a child, I had been hyper-thyroid. Apparently, children as young as I was don’t develop thyroid problems at the age of 9. They’re either born with them (and often die before diagnosed) or it just doesn’t happen until later in life. Not only was I hyperthyroid, I was extremely so and had a goiter big enough to double as a softball. I’m in medical journals. There was no real protocol for treating children and I was a research hospital’s guinea pig. They did not want to remove the thyroid for a host of reasons. I endured weekly (and sometimes twice weekly) medical appointments and testing for the better part of two years.
The treatment was successful, but my parents were warned that I may never undergo puberty and might never have children. Well. I did undergo puberty – in spades – though I attribute my lack of cleavage to after-effects of massive doses of thyroid hormones. [Every woman on both sides of my family is very well-endowed to the point where breast reduction surgery is often undertaken. I’m a standout oddity.] I also have Chef Boy ‘R Mine as witness to my childbearing abilities.
I’d been complaining, 20 years ago, that something wasn’t right with my thyroid. For the first time in my life, I could pinch an inch. I couldn’t get enough sleep, etc. etc. I kept testing in the normal range. I tried to explain to them that although I wasn’t medicated, I had been somewhat hyperthyroid since I quit taking the meds when I was 10. I was on a downward slope, but I had no street cred with the docs and they couldn’t have cared less what I thought. Low normal was still normal – never mind that I’d been slightly hyper for years.
Fifteen years ago, I persuaded them to do the full thyroid panel and sure enough I was hypothyroid.
The full panel of thyroid tests reveals all sorts of things, but for people with my diagnosis – Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – the TSH number is the important one. 3.0 is considered the upper range of normal. Most docs don’t like for folks to get below 0.5 to 1.0 or above 5.0. I don’t recall what that first TSH number was – pretty big. I TOLD them I felt awful; I still don’t know why they were so surprised.
So. That was my second real indication that I’m pretty in tune with my body – the first was sensing that Chef Boy ‘R Mine was fixin’ to be a miscarriage before there were any real signs. I know when things are wrong.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. A simple explanation is that my thyroid thinks it is allergic to itself and keeps trying to commit suicide. Even missing my meds for just a day can provoke mayhem and carnage. Even medicated, periodic adjustments are required. A few years ago, I felt like crap and developed a goiter. I called the doc. My TSH was 39 –yes 39. Thirty-nine times the upper range of normal. He was astonished. I’d only missed three or four days of my meds.
The amount of Synthroid I take boggles the mind of my hypothyroid friends. Hypothyroidism is epidemic among women in this country. The last I heard, it was estimated that 40% of American women are hypothyroid with most of them undiagnosed. Since Oprah got diagnosed, I imagine that a few more are insisting their doctors run the thyroid panel. But regular hypothyroidism is not the same as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Look at it like this – there’s the common cold and then there’s bronchitis.
So, over the years, my thyroid acts up, I feel like crap, and I call the doctor. I’m always right and they no longer argue with me. We run the tests, we up the Synthroid, and off I go on my merry way.
I’ve been sleeping a lot lately, but I haven’t had brain fog and I don’t have a goiter. It’s been a cold, yucky winter and my stress levels are THIS HIGH. [Connie holds her hand two feet above her head.] I’m very in tune with my body and nothing was on my radar.
The family practitioner insisted we run a thyroid panel. I was opposed. I thought it unnecessary testing that would end up costing me a couple hundred dollars. We argued, she won. She also ran my cholesterol.
Well. My cholesterol is in the “needs medication” column and my TSH is, no shit, ONE HUNDRED FIFTY-NINE. One Five Nine. That’s 5300% higher than it should be.
Well, shit-fire, no wonder I’m tired. I should be near comatose based on past experience.
I’m inclined to think something went awry with this test. With a TSH of 39, I could barely get out of bed, every spot of arthritis in my body was screaming, my skin was so dry I was a cloud of dead skin cells, and I was thoroughly miserable. I was also unable to remember anything. At a 39 TSH, my world was wallpapered with sticky notes lest I forget something. No kidding, I had sticky notes to remind me to do stuff you wouldn’t think needed reminders. I had “brush teeth” on the medicine cabinet and “go to work” on the steering wheel of the car. I would forget what I was doing in the middle of doing it.
It was awful. If I do, in fact, have a TSH of 159, I should be too bumfuzzled and confoozled to type this much less actually awake at 8 p.m. The only hesitation with dismissing it out of hand is that my cholesterol is high. Traditionally, my cholesterol numbers are good when my thyroid is functioning well. Hypothyroidism correlates with high cholesterol. Many folk find that when they’re properly medicated for thyroid problems, high cholesterol problems go away.
So. Today I read that menopause is suspected to interfere with the body’s ability to process Synthroid. Upon reading that, I threw up my hands and ran amok in the hallways for awhile. Menopause’s unbloody hands appear to affect every facet of my life. I’m tired of it. And I’m tired. And I have a TSH of 159.
I’m still functioning and for that I’m grateful. I’m much too busy to crawl into bed for the 4-6 weeks it will take to get things up to speed.
If you know a woman who’s tired of being tired, suggest she get her thyroid checked. There’s no need to be miserable. Until they figure out why all of us womenfolk are having this problem, there’s not much to be done for it other than get a diagnosis and some prescriptions. (And if you have been diagnosed and medicated, but still feel like crap, get your B12 serum levels checked – B12 deficiency goes hand-in-hand with thyroid problems.)