Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Stick Your Neck Out! (1.27.07)

This month is Thyroid Awareness Month and I highly recommend going to the Thyroid Awareness Website for information on how to do a neck check and to assess your risk for thyroid disease. Nearly 5% of all Americans suffer from thyroid disease, 4% from hypothyroidism. As many as 8 million Americans are probably undiagnosed, living in discomfort and pain. A study in the 2003 "Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism" it was suggested that 1 in 3 thyroid patients is NOT receiving adequate treatment.

I've personally experienced two forms of thyroid disease - hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. In 1993 I was diagnosed with Graves' Disease, an autoimmune thyroid disorder. My story can be found at Dianne Wiley's Graves' Disease Resource page. If you're experiencing symptoms that might indicate hyperthyroidism, I strongly suggest getting to the doctor and having some tests run.

Nervousness, anxiety, or an irritable and quarrelsome feeling
Trembling hands
Weight loss, despite eating the same amount or even more than usual
Intolerance of warm temperatures and increased likelihood to perspire
Loss of scalp hair
Rapid growth of fingernails and tendency of fingernails to separate from the nail bed
Muscle weakness, especially of the upper arms and thighs
Loose and frequent bowel movements
Thin and delicate skin
Change in menstrual pattern
Increased likelihood for miscarriage
Prominent bulging of the eyes
Protrusion of the eyes, with or without double vision (in patients with Graves’ disease)
Irregular heart rhythm, especially in patients older than 60 years of age
Accelerated loss of calcium from bones, which increases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

I also have had the "joy" of experiencing hypothyroidism. Apparently, I have the antibodies for both autoimmune diseases (Graves' and Hashmito's hypothyroidism). In 2003 I began training for a marathon and as I trained and the months progressed, I gained weight and got slower and slower. After the marathon, my times got even slower. I went from a normal 9 minute mile (I'm no Speedy Gonzalez) to where 12 - 13 minutes a mile was a painful struggle. My jeans no longer fit, my face was puffy, I had bizarre aches and pains, a foggy head and basically felt like crap. I went to the doctor and had my thyroid tested - and was sent on my way, told that I was fine. On the way out the door, I asked for a copy of the blood test. When I got home, I looked at it -- my TSH was 4.65... this was NOT normal. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinology had changed the standards (with VERY good reason). The reference range for "normal" TSH was changed from 0.5 to 5.0 to 0.3 to 3.0, with anything over 2.0 suspect if symptoms were present. I went back with medical reports, the AACE press release, the National Association of Clinical Biochemistry's press release and a demand for treatment. It took a long, long time to feel well again - and a switch from synthetic hormone (Synthroid) to the natural (Armour) before I truly felt good again. The symptoms of hypothyroidism can include (but are definitely not limited to):

Difficulty with learning
Dry, brittle hair and nails
Dry, itchy skin
Puffy face
Sore muscles
Weight gain
Heavy menstrual flow
Increased frequency of miscarriages
Increased sensitivity to many medications

By opinion - and the opinion of several thyroid organizations - is that all women over the age of 35 should have a thyroid test run as part of their annual exam. I also strongly believe that every pregnant woman should have thyroid testing as part of her prenatal and postnatal care. As many as 20% of all women experience postpartum thyroiditis.

AND if you get your thyroid tested, always ALWAYS get a copy of the blood work. Check what your level is, check to see if the lab is using the NEW normal range. Don't ever accept "you're fine" as an answer when you feel like crap. Many labs in this country are NOT using the new standards. Many doctors aren't even aware, even though it has been published in everything from national news magazines to Ladies' Home Journal. (I'm using the term "new" loosely, it has now been several years since the standards were changed). I recommend visiting Mary Shomon's site on for some valuable information - for instance, you can find copies of press releases to bring with you to the doctor.

Make sure you find a doctor that will TALK to you. A doctor that won't try to hand you anti-depressants and run you out the door. Remember always that doctors are not gods, they are in a service industry. If you don't like the way the service is being provided, move on. You should be treated with respect. Your questions should be addressed in terms that you can understand. Your symptoms should never, ever be made light of.

Research using reputable sources. There are no "natural" cures for thyroid disease. You can't take some herbs and feel "all better." The thyroid and its function affect your entire body, so don't mess around!

Here is a short, informative piece by Drs. Richard and Karilee Shames talking about restoring thyroid and adrenal health.

Books that are helpful:

Living Well with Hypothyroidism, Living Well with Autoimmune Disease, The Thyroid Diet - all three by Mary Shomon

Graves' Disease: A Practical Approach by Elaine Moore

If you have any questions, feel free to send me a message. I'm always ready to listen and help. I used to have a Graves' Disease web site which received a few million hits, but as I felt better I became lazy about maintaining it. It did, however, get me noticed by a local medical school who used me as their M1 orientation keynote speaker for three years - which then got me a great job as an actress in their Center for Clinical Studies.

No comments: