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January is Thyroid Awareness Month. A month dedicated to talking about thyroid disease – the conditions and symptoms, importance of diagnosis and treatment, but also the many issues we face as thyroid patients.
Many don’t get the treatment or testing they need and the results can be shocking. Mental health problems, inability to remain in employment, breakdown of relationships, infertility and even death. I’ve heard from countless others who became suicidal.
We have a lot of progress to make in how we are treated medically, but if the general public can understand the effects of thyroid disease just a little bit more, even that would be helping us out a lot.
What you should know:
- The World Health Organization estimates that 750 million people in the world have some form of thyroid disease.
- Which includes 1 in 20 people in the UK, says the British Thyroid Foundation.
- and The ATA say that as many as 60% are undiagnosed
- Around 8 times more women are affected than men, with key triggers being puberty, pregnancy and the menopause.
Symptoms are far reaching as thyroid hormone is needed for every cell and function in the body.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Sensitivity to cold/heat
- Weight gain and inability to lose weight
- Constipation and/or wind often
- Slow movements, speech and thoughts
- Itchy and/or sore scalp
- Muscle aches, pains and weakness
- Muscle cramps
- Poor appetite
- Dry and tight feeling skin
- Brittle hair and nails
- Loss of libido (sex drive)
- Pain, numbness
- Numbness in limbs
- Irregular periods or heavy periods
- Brain fog/confusion/memory problems
- Hoarse voice
- A puffy-looking face
- Thinned or partly missing eyebrows
- A slow heart rate or one that increases more so than a healthy person’s, after physical activity (e.g. after walking up the stairs or emptying the washing machine)
- Hearing loss
- Poor stamina
- Feeling weak
- The need to nap more than others
- Long recovery period after any activity
- Arms feeling like dead weights after activity
- Inability to exercise, or withstand certain exercises
- Diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Being overly emotional
- Poor circulation
- High or rising cholesterol
- Acid reflux
- Hair loss
- Easy bruising
- Swollen legs that impede walking
- Joint stiffness and pain
- Fertility issues
And symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Increased sweating
- Oversensitivity to heat
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss
- Dry, thin skin
- Hair loss
- Change in sex drive
- Larger eyes
- Mood changes
- Dry or gritty eyes
- Double vision
- Weak, less define muscles
- Aches and pains
- Changes to menstrual cycle
- Infertility or problems conceiving
Could you or a friend or family member have a thyroid condition?
If you believe it could be possible that you have a thyroid issue, please make an appointment with your doctor and have them run a full thyroid panel. Your doctor may wish to just run just the TSH test first, but it is important to know that this isn’t entirely accurate on its own and the other components of the panel also need checking, especially if TSH comes back ‘normal’.
If your doctor won’t test you for a thyroid condition but you believe you may have one, or if they won’t run all the tests you need, you can explore ordering your own from online lab services.
Ensuring that you are treated with the aim of reaching optimal levels is important, as well as checking thyroid antibodies for autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s and Graves. It is also important to note that having Hashimoto’s can cause results to move up and down. You could also be told you’re ‘only borderline’ hypothyroid, but if you’re feeling very unwell, a trial of thyroid medication can be given to see if it helps.
Friends and family of those with hypothyroidism should know that whilst a good quality of life can be achieved with a thyroid condition, many go on to live a forever-altered life. It can be classed as a disability. See my category for those who know someone with a thyroid condition here, and my book for our friends and family here.
For many thyroid patients, they still live with symptoms and effects of their thyroid condition, despite being on medication for it, so delving deeper in to why is something you can do this month. You can live a good quality life with hypothyroidism.
We should also share helpful resources and materials to enable one another to make progress in their thyroid health. I wrote my first book, “Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate: When You’re Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired” with that in mind.
The book compiles all the information you need to begin advocating for your own health, in one place and in an easy to digest format. It is a great place to begin when learning to advocate for your own thyroid health.
Fun Theo The Thyroid plushies can also be used to raise awareness this month.
We can also share any resources we’ve found to be helpful, for example, I would suggest all hypothyroid patients to check out those listed here.
If you’ve just been diagnosed, check out these common FAQ’s and answers:
- What is hypothyroidism?
- What are the thyroid medication options?
- Can Hypothyroidism be cured?
- How long will it take me to feel well again?
- What’s Hashimoto’s?
- Why is weight gain a common symptom?
- What other conditions can hypothyroidism come hand in hand with?
- What’s wrong with my doctor testing TSH alone?
- Any books I can read?
- Any support groups I can join?
- What could any enlargement or abnormalities mean?
For those of us already diagnosed, we can gain awareness this month concerning how to check our thyroid glands regularly for any abnormalities, what supplements may help us and what tests we need. We should also be aware of what results we are looking for.
When you hear ‘Thyroid Condition’ used by a comedian as an ‘excuse for being overweight’, don’t laugh. Don’t belittle the pain and struggles we go through. We wouldn’t wish it upon anybody!
Will you be taking part in this event?
You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given.
Some helpful materials you can use to spread awareness:
Rachel Hill is the highly ranked and multi-award winning thyroid patient advocate, writer, speaker and author behind The Invisible Hypothyroidism. Her thyroid advocacy work includes writing articles, authoring books, producing her Thyroid Family email newsletters and speaking on podcasts, as well as being a founding board member for the American College of Thyroidology. She is well-recognised as a crucial contributor to the thyroid community and has a large social media presence. Her books include “Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate” and “You, Me and Hypothyroidism”.