Michele Adams is quick to say, “I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus,” but it took her being hit by a car for her thyroid disease to finally be diagnosed.
Adams has always been an active person, but for a few years, she had felt tired and had a constant tightness in her throat. She was diagnosed with post-nasal drip but did not feel relief after a year of treatment.
“I thought this exhaustion, hoarse voice and lump in my throat were just my new normal,” Adams said. “I’d accepted it, and I shouldn’t have.”
During this time, Adams went on a bike ride in northeastern New Jersey – something she still does frequently. However, on this day, Adams was struck by a car as she was biking.
The incident resulted in an MRI scan. Adams was not seriously injured, but doctors noticed something unexpected. The scan revealed nodules in her lower neck, which suggested thyroid disease.
“I now realize I had symptoms of a thyroid condition for years,” Adams said. “I’d had it up to here with not feeling like myself. Once I had the MRI results, I knew to seek out a thyroid expert, and I found an endocrinologist.”
From Sleep Disturbance to Weight Issues – It May Be Your Thyroid
Thyroid disease is more common than diabetes and heart disease, but more than half of Americans with thyroid disease are unaware, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE). This lack of awareness can endanger a person’s health and well-being.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located low in the front of the neck below the Adam’s apple. It produces thyroid hormones that influence almost every cell, tissue and organ in the human body.
Common signs of thyroid diseases include:
- Unexplained changes in weight
- Depression, anxiety or feelings of irritability
- Changes in memory or ability to concentrate
- Joint or muscle pain or weakness
- Fatigue or trouble sleeping
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Irregular menstrual periods
Cheryl Rosenfeld, D.O., is a thyroid expert and member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Rosenfeld is also the physician who treated Adams’ thyroid disease.
“If the thyroid does not function correctly, it can affect every possible aspect of a person’s life,” Rosenfeld said. “Remember that thyroid conditions can cause changes in mental health, including depression. I’ve also spoken to patients who’ve experienced an inability to concentrate, which seriously affected their performance at work.”
Several disorders can arise if the thyroid produces too much hormone (hyperthyroidism) or not enough (hypothyroidism).
Other thyroid diseases include:
- Thyroid cancer
- Graves’ disease
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Thyroid eye disease
Undiagnosed thyroid issues can also place a person at increased risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, infertility and other serious conditions.
What to do if you are ‘up to here’ with not feeling like yourself
Get tested is the best way to find out if your thyroid is malfunctioning. A blood draw, along with other diagnostics such as ultrasound can uncover if your thyroid is at the root of your issues.
Health care professionals usually check the amount of TSH in your blood first. TSH is a hormone made in the pituitary gland that tells the thyroid how much T4 and T3 to make.
A high TSH level most often means you have hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid. This means that your thyroid isn’t making enough hormone. As a result, the pituitary keeps making and releasing TSH into your blood.
A low TSH level usually means you have hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid. This means that your thyroid is making too much hormone, so the pituitary stops making and releasing TSH into your blood.
If the TSH test results are not normal, you will need at least one other test to help find the cause of the problem.
A high blood level of T4 may mean you have hyperthyroidism. A low level of T4 may mean you have hypothyroidism.
In some cases, high or low T4 levels may not mean you have thyroid problems. If you are pregnant or are taking oral contraceptives, your thyroid hormone levels will be higher. Severe illness or using corticosteroids—medicines to treat asthma, arthritis, skin conditions, and other health problems—can lower T4 levels. These conditions and medicines change the amount of proteins in your blood that “bind,” or attach, to T4. Bound T4 is kept in reserve in the blood until it’s needed. “Free” T4 is not bound to these proteins and is available to enter body tissues. Because changes in binding protein levels don’t affect free T4 levels, many healthcare professionals prefer to measure free T4.
If your health care professional thinks you may have hyperthyroidism even though your T4 level is normal, you may have a T3 test to confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes T4 is normal yet T3 is high, so measuring both T4 and T3 levels can be useful in diagnosing hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid antibody tests
Measuring levels of thyroid antibodies may help diagnose an autoimmune thyroid disorder such as Graves’ disease—the most common cause of hyperthyroidism—and Hashimoto’s disease—the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Thyroid antibodies are made when your immune system attacks the thyroid gland by mistake. Your health care professional may order thyroid antibody tests if the results of other blood tests suggest thyroid disease.
Do yourself a favor, test – don’t guess. Consult with your doctor, the see me for lifestyle interventions to help you get back to feeling your best.