Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a thyroid disorder. This happens when the thyroid does not produce sufficient thyroid hormone for the body. The thyroid is responsible for a lot of things. It helps to regulate our bodies and controls metabolism. It affects millions of people, a majority of them being women, and most don’t know they have it. I was one of those people for about four or five years before finally being diagnosed in 2003.
Hypothyroidism usually goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. This can be attributed to a lot of factors. One is different labs can have different ranges. The American Thyroid Association has suggested that labs lower the TSH ranges to .3-3.0 which would mean that far more people would be diagnosed with a thyroid disease. Even with the suggested change, some labs still have the TSH range of .5-5.0. This is where the problem begins.
Some of the symptoms of an underactive thyroid include fatigue, mental fog, depression, increased menstrual flow, dry hair, brittle nails, feeling cold when no one else does, unexplained weight gain, and a few others. Here’s how the problem starts, because a lot of these symptoms are also symptoms of other diseases.
For me, I suffered all these symptoms and more. I was in a myxedema coma, though I was never thought to be in one or to be suffering from any thyroid disorder, because my TSH levels were in the ‘normal’ range. With myxedema coma, you don’t necessarily slip into a coma, but I will get more into that at a later date.
One of my first signs was the inability to swallow. Every time I would eat, I would struggle to swallow. It felt like if I didn’t chew enough or cut the food into small enough pieces, I would choke. The choking sensation didn’t stop there. I would get these feeling at night and would be awakened, coughing, by it. I was also quite fatigued. I was forgetting bits of conversations, where I placed things, etc.
I had separated from my ex-husband in 2002, and I had already been living with all these symptoms about three or four years by this point. I was told that perhaps it was due to depression and was given a prescription for Zoloft. I never filled that prescription, because I KNEW that wasn’t it. I wasn’t feeling like myself.
Of course, you will have those who say you are a hypochondriac, or the weight gain you’ve incurred would be solved if only you didn’t eat so much. This isn’t limited to your friends and family, some doctors say these things.
Luckily for me, the doctor who gave me the prescription for the Zoloft suggested that I go back and have my thyroid checked in a couple of weeks. When I was ready to do that, they no longer took my insurance. I was dealing with a PPO at the time, so it was easy just to book an appointment with an endocrinologist.
At the first appointment, he examined my neck, asked about my symptoms, then had me start on a low dosage of thyroid medication until the extensive thyroid labs he had done, came back. The second appointment was the one that changed things for me. FINALLY! I had a diagnosis: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is named after the doctor who discovered it. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder. The body treats the thyroid like it’s a foreign object. The immune system attacks the thyroid in response, thereby causing the thyroid to produce little to no hormone.
My doctor told me that I would need to be on thyroid medication for the rest of my life. He then increased it, and I started to feel better. But that feeling didn’t last long.