Sunday, February 26, 2012

Feeling a little off? Have your thyroid checked.

Did you know that last month was Thyroid Awareness Month?  I didn't.  I probably should have.  I was diagnosed with Graves' disease five years ago. 

Honestly, I don't think about it much.  But I ran across these pics over the weekend. 

These were our annual coaches' family pics back in 2007.  Back when we were newlyweds, barely married a year.  Back when we were still brand new teachers.  Back before we even thought about having a baby.  Back when I had braces (for the second time in my life since I didn't wear my retainer as a kid).  Back when we were younger, carefree, and had no real responsibilites. 

But that's not all I see when I look at these pics.  I also see my hair -- and how very thin it was.  And I'm reminded that this was around the time I was learning to manage my little condition.  I was diagnosed about nine months prior to this picture.

If you've never heard of Graves' disease, first know that it's rarely life-threatening.  Graves' is an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid that affects the quality of life. With Graves' disease, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing it to overproduce.

I never really talk about this because in the grand scheme of things, I'm healthy.  The condition is manageable and very treatable. But the condition is real.  And it DOES and HAS affected my life.  I've had my thyroid removed (ever noticed the scar on my neck?  I forget it's even there.).  I have to see an endocrinologist a couple of times a year.  I'm on hormone replacement therapy for the rest of my life (which I admit that I haven't been very good at, which has resulted in most of my problems with the condition). My doc and I have to watch my levels very closely before and during pregnancy.  And other stuff...

But today I want to tell you about it because conditions of the thyroid often go undetected.  They are very real.  And I don't want you to ignore them.

I'll give you a brief version of my story: I was in my first year of teaching when I began to notice some weight loss and changes in my personality (there are people on the other end of the spectrum -- weight gain is just as common).  And even though I was enjoying my first year on the job, I thought my symptoms were a sign that my job was affecting me more than I realized.  

But then it happened.  My hair.  It suddenly started thinning and had this weird texture.  And I remember thinking, "Okay, I'm not THAT stressed.  Something's wrong."

So I went to the doctor, and obviously he didn't like what he saw in my bloodwork.  I was referred to an endocrinologist, and was soon diagnosed.  That time in my life was a blur because I was soooo focused on being a good teacher my first year. I didn't pay as much attention to my health as I should have. 

I remember having radioactive iodine treatments and taking antithyroid drugs. And since I was of childbearing age and would probably start having children soon, my doctor and I decided that removal was the best option (radioactive iodine treatments and antithyroid drugs can be harmful to a fetus).  Plus, my thyroid was going nuts.

Surgery didn't exactly mean I was cured.  It just put me on the other end of the spectrum.  Now that my thyroid was gone, I'd have to take a pill every day to replace the hormones the thyroid produces (some pretty important hormones since they regulate metabolism).  But surgery did put me on what my doctor and I considered the healthier end of the spectrum -- for me, a young 20-something-year-old woman who would have children in the next year or two.  Taking a pill every day is easy.

My reason for bringing this all up today is because I when found these pics this weekend, I remembered the girl who ignored her health.  I chose to believe I was completely healthy when really I was not.  I ignored the symptoms that were clearly there and ended up with a fairly severe case.  Don't be like me.

Many women struggle with thyroid issues, and many cases go undetected.  Way too many.  We blame it on stress and don't face the real problems.  Thyroid issues can lead to more severe health problems -- they should not be ignored.

Go here to learn more about thyroid conditions.  If you see anything that concerns you, see your doctor.

Have a great week, everyone!


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