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Is It Hypothyroidism or Hypochondria?

By Kathy Hubbard

Grace has been overweight all of her adult life. Her blood pressure tends to be very low and her hands and feet are always cold. Lately, she feels so tired she can barely get out of bed, but staying in bed doesn’t help because she has difficulty sleeping.
She did an extensive search on the internet and made an appointment with her doctor because she suspected that she had hypothyroidism. You know that the thyroid gland produces a hormone that runs your body’s metabolism. Well, so does Grace. But, after her doctor examined her his advice was, “Stop Googling!” He also suggested that she see a psychiatrist. Instead she chose to see another physician.
The American Thyroid Association tells us that more than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime and that 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition. Why? Because the symptoms can come and go, they can resemble something else, or they don’t add up to setting off the something-wrong-with-the-thyroid alarm.
“Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems and the origins of thyroid problems are largely unknown. Undiagnosed thyroid disease may put patients at risk for certain serious conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and infertility.” ATA says.
“There are two fairly common causes of hypothyroidism. The first is a result of previous (or currently ongoing) inflammation of the thyroid gland, which leaves a large percentage of the cells of the thyroid damaged (or dead) and incapable of producing sufficient hormone,” they explain.
This thyroid failure is called autoimmune thyroiditis (or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) and is caused by the patient’s immune system. The second cause comes under the category of “medical treatments.” If a patient has had some, or all, of their thyroid removed, hypothyroidism will occur.
Since hypothyroidism is so common, what are the symptoms you should be looking for? Number one is fatigue. What does that mean? We all feel tired out from time to time. What constitutes fatigue?
The Mayo Clinic describes it as unrelenting exhaustion that lasts longer, is more profound and isn’t relieved by rest. “It’s a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time and reduces your energy, motivation and concentration.”
So, back to symptoms. Endocrineweb.com lists the following: fatigue; weakness; weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight; coarse, dry hair; dry rough pale skin; hair loss; cold intolerance (you can’t tolerate cold temperatures like those around you); muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches; constipation; depression; irritability; memory loss; abnormal menstrual cycles and decreased libido.
“Each individual patient may have any number of these symptoms, and they will vary with the severity of the thyroid hormone deficiency and the length of time the body has been deprived of the proper amount of hormone,” Endocrineweb says.
Grace’s biggest complaint was that no matter what she did she couldn’t lose weight. She’d go on low calorie diets and increase her exercise routine and not drop a pound. She went on a nationally-known weight-loss program and gained weight. They accused her of sneaking treats, which wasn’t true.
Her body temperature was always around the 95.5 degree mark (normal is 98.6), even during the hottest days of the year. She just assumed that she’d inherited her dry skin and unruly, thinning hair. But, those were the red flags that her new physician saw waving in the wind.
Diagnosis is based on your symptoms and the results of blood tests, Mayo tells us. They also say that because hypothyroidism is more prevalent in older women, most physicians will screen for the disorder during regular exams. Pregnant women and women planning to get pregnant should also be screened.
“Hypothyroidism can often be diagnosed with a simple blood test, Endocrineweb explains. “Hypothyroidism is completely treatable in many patients simply by taking a small pill once a day. However, this is a simplified statement, and it’s not always so easy.” What is?
As for Grace, she takes her daily meds, is down to a normal weight and exercising no longer makes her feel like a wrung out dish cloth. Now she just complains about being too warm. Maybe that’s all in her head!
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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