You now know the signs and symptoms of the different thyroid diseases, but how does a diagnosis affect your life? We asked a woman with the most common form of hyperthyroidism, Graves' disease, to tell us more about her experience. Besides being a patient, 44-year-old Kimberly Dorris is the Executive Director of the Graves' Disease and Thyroid Foundation.
Tell us about your diagnosis. What first tipped you off that something may be wrong? I went in for a check-up after experiencing an occasionally rapid heart rate, insomnia and hand tremors. I would watch waves in my coffee cup because my hands were shaking so badly. Often, I'd notice excessive sweat, but I live in Arizona so I wrote that off on the heat! My doctor then ran a TSH test and I was soon diagnosed with Graves', which is an autoimmune disease. When you have Graves', your immune system begins attacking your healthy tissue, including the thyroid gland, the cells and tissues behind your eyes and sometimes the skin.
How does Graves' disease impact your daily life? It's really a constant struggle to keep my weight in check. While weight loss is a symptom for many patients with hyperthyroidism, others struggle with weight gain after beginning treatment. More research is needed to determine if this is because of the disease itself or the treatment, but it has affected my self esteem and energy. I try to focus on what I can control, like being as active as possible, rather than what I can't (my weight fluctuations). My overall stamina has decreased. So while I used to play in a tennis league, now I feel fortunate to be able to hit the ball around with friends. I play about twice a week and try to walk twice a week, kickbox once and strength train once.
What treatment has been most effective for you? There are three options for treatment: anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine or surgical removal of the thyroid. While there are some side effects to the anti-thyroid drugs, I chose that route because it's the only option that doesn't require thyroid hormone replacement for life.
What do you with more people knew about thyroid disorders? Since the symptoms can overlap with several other issues, it can take many different doctors visits before someone thinks to give you a TSH test. After I was given the test but before I began taking the medication, I thoroughly researched the pros and cons of each form of treatment. From others that I've spoken with in the support group I started for those with Graves' disease and their loved ones, patients are much more satisfied with the outcome when they form a team with their medical professionals.