The Hashimoto’s thyroiditis journey
My name is Cathy and I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The name sounds unpleasant; the disease is unpleasant. Hashimoto’s is an auto-immune disease that gradually destroys the thyroid gland.
What’s the big deal?
The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the front of your neck, produces hormones that affect almost all the processes in your body. When the thyroid is not functioning properly, the result is a thyroid disorder, one of which is Hashimoto’s. I have spent the last six years trying to manage my fickle thyroid and its unpredictable symptoms, and frankly, I am exhausted, frustrated and a little bit irritated.
For most of my adult life, I had a relatively agreeable existence with my thyroid. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in my late teens, not surprising considering my family history. I was living symptom free, taking medication daily and getting blood tests annually. Things were good, friendly. Then, at the age of 37, I had a child, and my thyroid decided it no longer wanted to be friends, but enemies. My thyroid began wreaking havoc on my body and my life – both mentally and physically. In 2013, at the age of 40, an antibody blood test and ultrasound confirmed my diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Despite having lived with hypothyroidism for nearly 20 years and seen countless endocrinologists, I had never even heard of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – never had an ultrasound of my thyroid. There was clearly more that I needed to learn, because I felt horrible. I had to take ownership of this disease, not the other way around.
With Hashimoto’s, your body essentially turns on itself, producing antibodies that gradually impair your thyroid gland, causing a decline in function. The result is an underactive thyroid that produces less hormones (T3 and T4), or hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s is a common cause of hypothyroidism, however, a person can be hypothyroid and not have Hashimoto’s. Hypothyroidism is a condition, whereas Hashimoto’s is a disease.
The treatment for Hashimoto’s is the same for that of hypothyroidism, but for me, it was a whole new ball game. Hashimoto’s plunged me into a life of unpleasant symptoms, as well as frequent doctor visits, medication dosage changes and blood tests. I struggled just to feel better and return to some normalcy. Over the years, symptoms kept surfacing – heart palpitations, dry eyes, fatigue, frequent colds and infections, breast pain, swollen lymph nodes, anxiety, irritability, intolerance to cold, seasonal allergies, depression, hormonal acne, dry skin, night sweats, joint pain and stiffness, sleep disturbances, muscle aches as well as some other symptoms far too embarrassing to mention. I found that many endocrinologists relied too heavily on my blood test results, prescribing medication simply to achieve a “normal” range, ignoring my persistent symptoms. Often, it was necessary to fight for medication dosage changes.
Six years later, the Hashimoto’s journey continues, and it will never end. I made the decision to educate myself on the proper way to take medication; search for a compatible endocrinologist; eat healthy and exercise; tolerate and treat some symptoms; and get annual physicals. Nevertheless, symptoms (some old, some new), unpredictably appear, requiring medication changes and blood tests. It’s a never-ending, vicious cycle. There will always be periods – maybe weeks, maybe months – during which I will simply not feel well, and those around me will not get the best of me. Which leads me to my final point: thyroid disease is unpleasant because of how it affects you physically, but perhaps the harder journey is mental. Be well, don’t quit, cut yourself some slack and ask others to do the same.
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About the Author
Cathy R. was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis in 2013. She is a mother of one. She enjoys writing, reading and volunteering. She currently is being treated by Advocate Medical Group, endocrinologist, Dr Chung-Kay Koh in Park Ridge, Ill.