Monday, August 15, 2011

My lost year and the Thyroid-Problem Epidemic

Have I lost it? Actually, it might be your thyroid talking.
(This is kind of part Public Service Announcement)

This weekend, I met a friend (a fellow writer) for coffee. We hadn't seen each other in a long while. She told me that she was feeling so much better but had lost about six months of last year -- depressed, exhausted, not writing... I stopped her. I said,

"Can I ask if you found out that this was thyroid-related?" It was the way she was describing her symptoms that tipped me off.

She said, "Yes! It was." I wish I'd seen her and talked to her earlier. I could have helped, maybe saved her a few months of misery.

I told her that about ten years ago, I lost over a year to being undiagnosed. I told my doctor how bad I felt -- I was exhausted, queasy, my hair was falling out, my arms were tired ... He checked my blood work -- including thyroid, which I was hawking because my sister has had thyroid problems since after the birth of her first child, long ago. One thing was that I was small still and thyroid issues often affect people's weight -- sudden gains and losses.

My numbers were within normal range. The doctor told me I was working too hard. It was stress. I was the sole breadwinner and along with the three kids (one of which was a baby), it was too much for me. Slow down. Rest.

So, I went to a therapist's office every week -- because obviously I had a mental issue. I suddenly couldn't handle my life -- which was a life I'd handmade and loved. I cried each week. My friend told me that she, too, had been in therapy, and one nurse had suggested Prozac.

Now, some of you might remember this therapist from my New York Times Modern Love piece -- the therapist who wrote me a love poem. So, uh, this therapist wasn't perfect and he admitted that I had plenty of issues that I could discuss with him for a very long time, but he also told me that there was something physically wrong with me. I needed to see another doctor. He put me in touch with a wonderful holistic doctor.

This doctor asked me other kinds of questions -- for one thing, if I was cold, if I was sweating a lot or not at all, about my periods... I had weird answer to all these questions. He redid the tests, which still weren't showing a crazy thyroid problem, but a new piece in, again, The New York Times had reported doctors weren't looking at the numbers with as much hard and fast scrutiny but in concert with the patient's symptoms. He suggested we try a low dose of some organic meds and see.

In six weeks, I had my life back. It was amazing. I was myself again.

I now take synthroid and still watch my numbers and have times when things get out of step; the thyroid affects so many areas of your overall health that you have to keep hawking everything -- especially if pregnant. And I try to be a good hypochondriac about all of this.

In case you missed the moral of the story: If you feel like hell and you think you've lost it, check in with your body, get the blood work done, keep advocating for yourself, mind & body. A number of things could be out of step, but make sure to check your thyroid -- whether male or female.

Is this an epidemic?

When I talk about my thyroid, I'm always stunned by how many people are taking synthroid or some thyroid drug to keep theirs chugging. In fact, I know so many people -- colleagues, friends, neighbors, family ... -- I recently asked a nurse practitioner -- who takes meds for her thyroid -- what percentage of patients were taking meds for their thyroids. I don't want to give the stat because it's only anecdotal -- but it was staggering. An epidemic percentage. The highest number I've seen is 30 million while googling, but I feel like it's growing exponentially.

The meds work well -- but what's the source? This is yet another auto-immune related disease on the upswing. Are we messing with our immune systems because of all of the shots we take to boost our immunities? Is it radiation-related; the thyroid is worn out by radiation... (This is where a blog breaks down on you, by the way -- in addition to my messy typos. In a REAL article, you'd get some answers right about ... here.)

I know absolutely nothing about the source issues. I know it's not the same problem that my grandmother had in West Virginia -- a lack of iodine ... But it is seriously alarming that this very important (but med-replaceable) part of our bodies is burning out.