Thyroid Conditions: The Disease Your Doctor Might Miss
Lenore Martin* could see her heart beating through her shirt-actually lifting the fabric-as she lay on the couch watching television. "I thought it was going to jump out of my chest," she says. For six months, the magazine assistant, then 26 years old, had felt so hot and sweaty she often wore just a tank top in the dead of winter. She had dropped two sizes and 15 pounds without dieting. Worst of all, she was constantly nervous and couldn't sleep. Usually laid-back, she had become so touchy that she got into fights with strangers on the street. "I literally thought my personality had changed," she recalls. When she went home for her brother's wedding, her father, a doctor, noticed not only the changes in behavior but also that she was always drenched in sweat. He saw, too, that her neck was swollen-a possible sign that her thyroid, a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the throat, was enlarged and not functioning correctly.
*Name has been changed.
Soon after the wedding, she was tested and diagnosed with Graves' disease, a form of hyperthyroidism that occurs when the thyroid gland secretes too much hormone. Because these hormones regulate the metabolism of every organ and cell, they affect all bodily functions, from heart rate to how many calories you burn. The doctor discovered that Lenore's resting heartbeat was 140, nearly twice as fast as it should be normally. Like Lenore, many people don't recognize the symptoms of thyroid disease. And doctors don't regularly screen younger women unless they complain of symptoms, which are frequently attributed to stress, poor nutrition or lack of sleep. As a result, more than half of the nearly 15 million Americans who have either an underactive (hypo-) or overactive (hyper-) thyroid are unaware of their condition.
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