Monday, September 10, 2007

Hypothyroidism and Women

Not long ago, I wrote an entry about "Hypothyroidism and Down Syndrome" since Helen was diagnosed with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) - in addition to Celiac disease - and it has affected her weight, clothing fit, demeanor, and so many other aspects of life. This entry is about hypothyroidism in women in general and one in particular: me.

I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism last week. That diagnosis was a relief beyond words. It finally explained the symptoms that I've been feeling for too long and could no longer explain as grief from my Mom's recent death. And, speaking of Mom, she suggested now and then that I might have a thyroid issue. But then again she often expressed concern about the state of my health. I had a spinal fusion, which included some metal instrumentation, at age 15 and ever since then she perceived me as frail. For decades she would admonish me for lifting something she considered too heavy and I'd always respond that "I'm fine. I have a steel-reinforced back!" I always laughed but she didn't; she was always the worried, doting Mom. But, I digress.

Mom had hypothyroidism. Susie, my sister, has hypothyroidism. As you know, Helen, my niece has hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism runs in families. In addition, women are 4 to 5 times more likely than men to develop hypothyroidism. Some estimate that women over 35 years old have a 30% chance of developing hypothyroidism. Finally, the incidence of hypothyroidism increases with age. Hmm. I should have pursued this possibility a long time ago. I wish I had. I have to thank Anne Marie, my friend and sister-in-law (my brother Rick's wife,) for persuading me to get to the doctor. She became convinced that I had an underactive thyroid when her doctor talked to her about symptoms at a check-up. Annie doesn't have hypothyroidism. So, while it does run in families, it hasn't jumped over to the in-laws.

My symptoms were typical: Fatigue and weakness - when I wasn't sleeping, I felt like I should be. There were times when I could barely keep my eyes open. Depression - I attributed this to deep grief from Mom's death. Brain fog - perfect description for the addledness that I'd been experiencing. Weight gain, hair loss (a particularly cruel combination...why couldn't it have been weight loss and hair gain?) Other symptoms include cold intolerance, muscle aches and pains, constipation, heavy or irregular periods, increased blood cholestrol levels, decreased libido, eye and face swelling. Some patients exhibit multiple symptoms, in others the symptoms are subtle, some patients display no symptoms at all.

The condition is diagnosed through a blood test. In my experience, the blood draw was fast and painless. The doctor followed up with results in less than a week's time. The treatment is a synthetic thyroid hormone. It is such a commonly prescribed medicine that it's on the formulary of $4 medications at Target and Walmart pharmacies. The dose for this first month is the maximum beginning dose. Next month the dose is higher, then a repeat blood test will determine whether the dose should be increased again. The dose adjustments and blood tests will continue until results are back to the normal range.

I already feel a little bit better, though not nearly back to normal. I know, though, that I will eventually be back to normal. And that's a huge relief and comfort. (Who knows how much It'll Fit'll can fill your needs with some sustained and focused energy!) Anyway, conservative estimates are that 10% of the U.S. population may have a thyroid disorder and as many as half of those people are undiagnosed. I'm glad that I'm not one of them anymore. If you're not feeling well and have some of those symptoms, talk to your doctor. Don't let yourself go undiagnosed either.

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