An estimated 20 million Americans have a thyroid problem and up to 60% don’t even know it. I was one of those people until about 8 months ago.
Extreme moodiness. Brain fog. Depression. Menstrual irregularity. Cold intolerance.
Gut issues. Memory lapses. Infertility. Acne. Anxiety.
It’s just PMS.., right?
Throughout my life, I blamed my random symptoms on what was going on at the time or simply on being a menstruating female. In my early 20s, I blamed it on being a busy college student in a rigorous nursing program who had a poor diet and a stressful personal life. In my mid-20s I blamed it on being an overwhelmed pediatric ICU nurse with long and difficult days. I always had an excuse to explain my array of symptoms.
FATIGUE. Eventually, I just accepted that I was just a sleepy, sensitive and low-energy person. It was hard for me to keep my plans with friends because I literally had to battle to get out of bed. After a well-rested night with 8 to 10 hours of sleep, I would wake up absolutely exhausted. On my days off from school or work, I would make breakfast and literally take a nap or lay on the couch most of the day. I always wanted to be more active but I had accepted that it just was not meant for me. A gym membership was a joke when in the year 2012, I went twice to a year-long membership. My husband and I stopped going to the movies because I would just fall asleep anyway, which I remember my mom always sleeping through movies so I thought it was just the way I was supposed to be. I never knew any different so fatigue wasn’t a symptom to me- it was me.
GUT ISSUES. Even with blatant fatigue, I never thought once to seek medical attention even being a nursing student or eventually a nurse. It was not until my gastrointestinal issues in early 2015 got out of control, that I reached out to a specialist. I always had abdominal pains, leading me to the ER on several occasions and benign diagnoses of small ovarian cysts or constipation but I got to the point where my heartburn and aches were affecting my daily life. Also, seesawed between frequent loose bowel movements to several days of constipation.
After seeing a gastroenterologist and undergoing a series of exams and scopes, I had severe GERD, IBS and a mad, bloody stomach lining. My doctor recommended changing my diet and decreasing stress or I would develop stomach ulcers. I was on a high dose proton-pump inhibitor called Protonix for a few months to manage my symptoms which then affected the absorption of vitamins and minerals. So I decided to stop taking the medication, and take my diet more seriously. I honestly never thought to consider other causes of my symptoms- but neither did my doctors.
DIZZINESS AND NAUSEA. Once I got a decent hold of my digestion and GI issues, I started to develop symptoms of vertigo, migraines, and nausea. I was at a nursing conference in Atlanta in October 2015 and woke up one morning with severe nausea and dizziness. At first thought (being a 25 year old with morning sickness)-duh, I AM PREGNANT! Welp, the test was negative and it was not just sickness in the morning. I had motion sickness for days until I returned home. I visited my doctor as soon as she was available and she ran another pregnancy test just to be sure. Negative. I was prescribed an anti-emetic and was told to come back if I didn’t feel better.
You know that feeling you get when you get up too fast? Light-headed, unsteady and dizzy? I felt that for almost 2 weeks straight. I was miserable. Eventually, I sought out a neurologist to figure out why I was having these severe migraines and vertigo. An MRI showed that I had a cyst in my mastoid sinus and a lot of congestion so I was prescribed a high dose antihistamine (and some valium). Things started to look up and after having to take 2 weeks off of work, I was able to drive and walk without wanting to puke. Fast forward to 2018 (3 years later), I still have days where if I am having a lot of stress it leads to a migraine and an uneasy feeling. Now I know a little more about how my body reacts and I have learned to be more proactive about my symptoms.
MOODINESS/ANXIETY/DEPRESSION. These symptoms are hard for me to write about and I keep coming back to it as I write other components of this post. My moods can shift minute to minute. On bad days, I will not get up from bed or eat or do anything. On worse days, I have panic attacks. Maybe in the future, I will feel more comfortable talking more about my battle with mental health but basically, it just depends on the day.
WEIGHT GAIN/LOSS. During a two year period prior to the official thyroid dysfunction diagnosis, I had large swings in my weight. At first, I had gained about 15 pounds which was super strange for me considering I had been the same weight from age 16-24. I blamed it on the steroid course I had taken when my vertigo was severe but I could not shed the pounds. Then about 4 months prior to my diagnosis I lost 12 pounds in 2 months. People were commenting on my weight and concerned I was losing weight too fast. The only change at that time to my lifestyle was eating a plant-based diet so I credited the weight loss strictly to my diet change.
INFERTILITY. I only took birth control for about 6 months back in 2014 to try and help with my irregular and heavy periods but every single dose and brand made me feel super pregnant (lol me). After trying to get pregnant at the end of 2016, I was successful after one cycle. After 9 weeks while at work, I started cramping and bleeding heavily, unfortunately, confirming a miscarriage later that day.
NIGHT SWEATS AND PALPITATIONS. Plot twist. A weird thing started happening about two months before I was officially diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. Night sweats.
On most mornings, I would wake up with my clothes drenched. It was not until the night sweats that I started to really get nervous about my health. My anxiety and medical background took me on a dark path. Night sweats? Fatigue? Easy bruising? Nausea? Weight changes? Yep, I have cancer.
Nope not cancer. Lab results came back with an overwhelmingly high level of TSH. So my doctor diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis since I had elevated antibodies, which is a fancy name for autoimmune hypothyroidism. It is common to have swings of hyperthyroid (weight loss, racing heart, anxiety, sweats) and hypothyroid (fatigue, weight gain, depression) symptoms at early stages of Hashimoto’s. I was diagnosed with a condition, was prescribed Levothyroxine and was sent on my way.
So my journey is over. I have a diagnosis and a medication to cure…HA. I wish! The journey has just begun. Although this was not a complete fix, it felt relieving to have some sort of name or cause. As a medical professional, I did feel like people thought I was crazy for ALWAYS having something to complain about. Hell, I thought I was crazy. No one knows exactly what normal is but I knew that I was far from it. And I am hopeful that eventually, things will level out. I am thankful to have an improvement in my symptoms but even though my labs are now completely normal, I still till have days that are absolutely awful. Days that I am dizzy, have headaches, break out in acne, always hungry, never hungry, depressed, anxious, or sleepy but I am doing more research and reading tons of books on thyroid health and overall chronic autoimmune diseases. I firmly believe that there is much more to learn about autoimmune disorders. Maybe there is more to this than just my thyroid.