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.
Approximately 30 million Americans have some sort of thyroid gland disturbance, and more than half of those people are unaware that anything is wrong. Why is this so important? The thyroid, a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the lower neck, produces hormones that affect nearly every cell in the body and play a large role in metabolism. Thyroid disease is more common than heart disease and diabetes, so why do we rarely here about it? The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists is out to change that this month, marking January as Thyroid Awareness Month.
To learn more, we spoke with Jeffrey Garber, M.D., President-elect for the American College of Endocrinology and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Dr. R. Mack Harrell, M.D., secretary for the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and physician at Memorial Integrative Endocrine Surgery in Hollywood, Florida.
Did you know?
- Six percent of miscarriages are linked to thyroid issues during pregnancy. Since the thyroid hormone crosses the placenta to help with the growth of the fetus, you’ll need 50 percent more iodine then when you’re not expecting. Speak with your doctor about finding a prenatal vitamin with the proper balance of vitamins and minerals.
- While about five percent of the general population is at-risk, 15 to 20 percent of those with diabetes are likely to develop thyroid disease.
- Women are more likely to be affected than men.
- If thyroid disease goes untreated, it may lead to elevated cholesterol, heart disease, infertility or osteoporosis.
- If you’re active on a regular basis, you can use your performance and recovery as a barometer for your internal health. If you feel weaker, can’t reach your typical speeds or are more sore or longer than usual, it may be a sign that an organ system is malfunctioning due to a thyroid issue. Time to check in with your M.D.!
- Thyroid disease is genetic, so ask tell your doctor about any related issues in your family tree and ask if a TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) test is a good idea.
- You should be performing a neck check, like a breast self-exam, on a regular basis to keep tabs on your thyroid health. Click here to find out how to do it.
Click below for more details about the different types of thyroid disease.