I was nineteen years old when my family physician noticed a “goiter” on my throat. He explained that this was an enlargement of my thyroid gland and, after running tests, confirmed that I was hypothyroid. It was a relief to figure out what seemed to be causing my sluggishness and gradual but steady weight gain, but my mind immediately raced to my mother, who has a scar on her neck from having her thyroid removed.
My doctor assured me that they had caught my issues in time and that it could be treated with a daily dose of a thyroid medication that would help replace the hormone my body naturally produces and which regulates everything from your body’s energy and metabolism to the appearance of your hair, skin and nails and quite a number of things in between. Simple enough, but after decades of my medical dance with this tricky little butterfly shaped gland, I learned that “simple” and “thyroid issues” don’t belong in the same sentence.
I can share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way, should you find yourself questioning your own thyroid health.
*If you think your thyroid isn’t functioning optimally, request a test that examines TSH and both the T3 and T4 levels. Ideally, seek testing from an endocrinologist. Many physicians simply test TSH levels and this does not present a complete picture of your thyroid health.
*If the test comes back “normal,” be sure to ask what the range of the test was and where your results fell on the scale. What may be considered in the “normal” range, may still leave you feeling very symptomatic. From my own testing experience, I tend to feel better when my test numbers are on the lower end of the normal range.
*If you doctor does prescribe thyroid medication, talk to him about experimenting with what variety may work best for you. I, for example, feel much better on Synthroid than its generic counterpart, Levoxyl. Several times my prescription was changed at my pharmacy and once, during a brief hospital stay, to a generic substitute, and I quickly learned how differently my body responds to the two medications.
*If you suffered from a sluggish metabolism, weight gain, thinning hair, being cold or feeling down, or a number of the other not so pleasant symptoms of being hypothyroid, don’t expect that starting the thyroid medication to magically fix these issues. While I can tell you I felt like the weight crept on fast around the time of my diagnosis, it certainly didn’t simply fall off when I started taking the medication. The happy news is that I was able to lose and, more importantly, keep off the weight I had gained.
*Take your medication on an empty stomach at the same time each day and avoid taking other medications with it. For quite a while I would take my thyroid medication in the morning with a multivitamin. Sometime later, I learned that taking pills with iron and even calcium supplements, and certain calcium rich foods, can interfere with the absorption of thyroid replacement medicines.
Ultimately, I’ll quote my grandfather and say, “Nobody knows your body better than you do.” If you don’t feel quite right, and you suspect your thyroid isn’t performing optimally, make an appointment and realize that, while the symptoms can be vague and mirror other issues, a few simple steps can determine if this tiny butterfly shaped gland is or isn’t doing its job.