According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), 30 million Americans have thyroid diseases.
More than half of those people remain undiagnosed.
One of those who got a diagnosis is Forest Pines’ Andreanna Schumacher, who found out she had Graves’ disease, a thyroid-related autoimmune disorder, five years ago.
“From the outside most people would never guess I had so many health problems, and unfortunately thyroid disease is many times one of those invisible diseases that people do not understand unless they’ve experienced it firsthand,” said Schumacher, whose symptoms started when she was pregnant with her oldest daughter.
“I was at an orientation for my husband’s school when I fell very ill and started having dizzy spells with my heart racing,” she added. “All my doctors chalked it up to pregnancy and didn’t see a need to run any tests.”
After she had her oldest daughter, everything went back to normal. Or so it seemed. But with a second pregnancy there were some scary times.
“I ended up developing a hemorrhage and placental abruption with my second daughter and I had her by emergency C-section at 24 weeks into the pregnancy, almost losing her,” Schumacher said. “I lost so much blood that I needed a blood transfusion.”
She got the Graves’ diagnosis when her second daughter was about a year old and Schumacher fell ill for a month.
“Each time I went to the doctor they would rule it out as a simple cold,” she said. “One night I started struggling to breathe and felt like I was fighting for my life – which I would find out later that I was.”
A doctor at the emergency room recognized the combination of a racing heartrate and a weakened immune system as thyroid-related.
“He felt for my thyroid and realized that it was actually inflamed and this time a full thyroid panel was done including FT4,” Schumacher said. “That testing showed that while my thyroid appeared at normal levels it actually was extremely hyperactive.”
ThyroidAwareness.com explains that the thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of the neck just below the Adam’s apple. Although relatively small, the thyroid gland plays a huge role in our body, influencing the function of many of the body’s most important organs.
In The Harvard Medical School Guide to Overcoming Thyroid Problems, Dr. Jeffrey R. Garber said to think of your thyroid as a car engine that sets the pace at which your body operates. An engine produces the required amount of energy for a car to move at a certain speed. Likewise, your thyroid gland manufactures enough thyroid hormone to prompt your cells to perform a function at a certain rate.
When outside influences such as disease, damage to the thyroid or certain medicines break down communication, your thyroid might not produce enough hormone.
This would slow down all of your body’s functions, a condition known as hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. Women are five times more likely than men to suffer from hypothyroidism. Aging is just one risk factor for it.
Your thyroid can also produce too much hormone, sending your systems into overdrive, a condition known as hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid.
Other thyroid conditions include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. Thyroid cancer is something to be aware of, too, but the AAEC says a very small percentage of nodules that develop in the thyroid are cancerous.
One reader of The Leader wrote that he didn’t think he had any warning signs when he walked into his annual physical 14 years ago and the doctor noticed a tumor in his neck, which revealed itself to be cancer.
“I was having ‘carpal tunnel’ issues in my right hand off and on, which can be a symptom of untreated — or inadequate treatment of — hypothyroidism,” he said. “None of these symptoms I connected with thyroid disease or cancer.”
After a total thyroidectomy and partial lymphectomy on the right side followed by radioactive iodine treatment, he has been in remission. The carpal tunnel went away, too.
Concerned? Be persistent
Garden Oaks’ Monica Danna was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in her 30s and later got a diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome, linked through both genetic and environmental factors to thyroid disorders. Danna also found out she had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
“When people suspect there is something up with their thyroid, I always encourage them to see a specialist,” said Danna. “Most general practitioners are not up to date on the latest tests that show the intricacies of normal thyroid ranges.”
“Early detection is key,” echoed Andreanna Schumacher. “It’s important that people know what tests should be done because I went for so long without a diagnosis and my thyroid always tested normal when doing basic lab work.”
Danna has found health through the right mix of medications and nutrition, which she credits for her well-being. She did an elimination diet to see what she should and should not be eating.
“When I don’t eat right for me I feel so much worse,” she said.