Back in 1996, when I was in high school, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease, called Grave’s Disease (a/k/a hyperactive thyroid) and was told I also had toxic multinodular goiters growing around my thyroid. It sounds a lot worse than it is! The goiter was benign, thank God, but the symptoms of Grave’s Disease were rough on me as an already self-conscious teenager.
The symptoms of this disease caused me to constantly be nervous, shaky, sweaty, lose hair, have large pupils, feel sick if I hadn’t eaten, and look anorexic due to the inability to gain weight. I also had a lump growing on my lower neck called a goiter – sounds just delightful, doesn’t it?
I couldn’t sleep on my stomach because my pillow would push against my tender goiter, so I started sleeping with a stuffed bear. I’d put the bear under my chest to lift my neck up from the pillow to relieve the pressure on my goiter. I could eat an entire pizza myself, every day of the week, or eat 2 pints of Hagen Daaz ice cream in one sitting, and not gain an ounce (that may sound like a good thing, but it wasn’t! Kids at school asked me if I were anorexic, and it was hurtful). A friend once approached me in the hallway at school, and asked if I were sick because I had a lump on my neck. After that day, I always tried covering it up with my hair so that no one would see it.
After a year or so on antithyroid medications, my doctor scheduled me to have the radioactive iodine treatment at the Nuclear Medicine department of Elmhurst Memorial Hospital to fix my problem once and for all. This treatment is serious business – the doctor dons protective gloves and drops a radioactive iodine pill down your throat, and you aren’t allowed to touch it. You are then instructed not to sit by anyone who is pregnant for 3 days after treatment (!?!). You are to also flush your toilet 3 times each time you go, and eat with paper plates and plastic forks and dispose of them each time. They don’t want any of your bodily fluids touching someone else. Scary! If the radioactivity in my body could harm someone else by sitting next to them, what is it doing to my body on the inside!?
The radioiodine treatment is meant to stop the thyroid from overproducing thyroid hormones. While I shudder to think what the radioactivity may have done to my insides, I am thankful that my thyroid has not given me any trouble since that treatment. I am basically in remission, but have to get yearly blood tests to make sure my thyroid doesn’t go hypoactive (explained below).
My goiter isn’t as noticeable now, but I still get a tad self-conscious when I wear a short necklace, which accentuates my lumpiness. Sometimes I feel the necklace is like a blinking arrow on the Vegas strip, pointing your direction right to my lump. (Said lump is depicted in the photo at the top of this page).
The thyroid is a small gland in the neck just below the Adam’s apple. Its primary function is to produce hormones that influence most of the metabolic functions of the body. Three primary problems can occur for a variety of reasons and with a variety of symptoms.
TYPES OF THYROID DISORDERS
Hypothyroidism is a where the thyroid is not producing sufficient hormones, which may lead to obesity, joint pain, infertility, heart disease, tiredness, depression, lack of concentration, feeling cold, constipation, muscle cramps, weight gain, increased menstrual flow, more frequent periods, itchy skin and thinning hair. This disorder is most common among women, over 50. The unbalance in the body from an underactive thyroid can develop slowly and initially be unnoticed but left unattended over time can lead to more serious situations.
This disease is where the body attacks the tissue of the thyroid. The resulting inflammation and damage to the tissue results in reduced amounts or cessation of the hormones normally generated by the thyroid. This is the most common of hypothyroid disorders and occurs primarily in middle aged females but is also seen in men and children.
An overactive thyroid, this can significantly accelerate the body’s metabolism, causing sudden weight loss, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, sweating, and nervousness or irritability. Symptoms can include insomnia, anxiety, irritability, bulging eyes, weakness in arms/legs, shaky hands, frequent bowel movements, weight loss, racing heartbeat, premature grey hair, lighter menstrual flow, less frequent periods. Various forms of hyperthyroidism include:
Graves’ disease – This is also an autoimmune disorder wherein there is too much production of the thyroid hormone. It is more prevalent among females and is the most common thyroid disorder among children and adolescents.
Toxic adenomas – Over activity may also come from nodules forming that secrete excess thyroid hormone or an inflammation may occur that causes the gland to “leak” the excess. Goiters that form may contain several nodules.
Subacute thyroiditis – This is a temporary inflammation of the thyroid that causes excess hormones and is usually temporary lasting a few weeks to a few months.
Goiters/Nodules – Goiters/nodules may be solid or fluid filled lumps that form within the thyroid due to the overproduction of thyroid hormone. Most nodules are not serious and may even go unnoticed. Some can be very large. Small percentages are cancerous and require serious attention.
Antithyroid Medications: These drugs help prevent the thyroid from producing hormones by interfering with the thyroid gland’s ability to produce hormones. While effective in relieving symptoms within a few weeks, hyperthyroidism may return after the drug is stopped.
Thyroid Removal: The thyroid may be surgically or chemically removed to correct hyperthyroidism and hormonal balance must be achieved by other means.
Radioactive Iodine (RAI): Some doctors favor radioactive iodine treatment because antithyroid medications do not always provide a long-term solution to Graves’ disease-related hyperthyroidism. RAI is given as a capsule and works by destroying thyroid tissue cells, reducing your thyroid hormone levels.
If you notice that you are having any of these symptoms, please make an appointment with an endocrinologist. They will take the appropriate blood tests to see if you have low or high thyroid hormone levels.
Blessings and good health to you!