January is Thyroid Awareness Month. It seems there’s a disease or condition for each month, these days. Surprisingly, thyroid disease is common. Almost 20 million people in the U.S. have some type of thyroid condition. And women are 5 to 8 times more likely to have a disorder.
I am not a doctor or a healthcare provider and am not offering any advice about how to avoid or treat thyroid disease. However, I am among the 20 million Americans that live with a thyroid condition and wanted to share my story about how I discovered my diagnosis and how I live with it.
What is a thyroid?
You may be wondering, what the heck is a thyroid and why should I care about it? The thyroid is a small gland located in the neck behind your Adam’s Apple. It’s the shape of a butterfly and about the same size. The thyroid gland regulates specific hormones that control your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight. Those hormones are:
- T4 (thyroxine)
- T3 (triiodothyronine)
How did I learn that I had thyroid disease?
I was approaching my 30th birthday and had a very full schedule. I was attending university full-time to complete my Bachelor’s in Marketing while holding down a full-time job as a marketing manager for a technology firm.
- My plate was full, and my tank was empty. I had no juice. No amount of iced coffee could boost my energy.
- I was tired but couldn’t stay asleep at night even when taking prescription sleep aids.
- I was irritable and constantly anxious.
- My heart was racing for no reason.
- I felt cold all the time.
- I was losing more hair than normal.
I thought all these symptoms were because of my hectic life.
So, I scheduled an appointment with my primary care doctor to get some clarity on my symptoms. At first, the doctor thought I may be suffering from depression and anxiety. His diagnosis wasn’t too much of a stretch, considering I’d been on medication in previous years for anxiety and depression. He prescribed a couple of medications, and I went about my busy life.
But the symptoms continued. I started feeling worse. My heart palpitations made me even more anxious. My energy was non-existent and I was feeling more depressed because I wasn’t getting better.
Talking with my mom on the phone, I told her I wasn’t feeling so great and explained my annoying symptoms. She said that I better go back to the doctor and get my thyroid checked. She knew about the symptoms because not only did she have thyroid disease, but so did her sisters and mother. Thyroid disease is known to run in the family.
It turns out, my mom was right. After running a blood panel for T3 and T4 hormones, I learned that I had a sluggish thyroid. The odd thing is that I was experiencing symptoms of both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is a condition that happens when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of the T4 hormone. My T4 levels were low but not alarmingly low, which is why I wasn’t experiencing a common symptom of significant weight gain.
You may have heard that Oprah also suffers from hypothyroidism. She experienced weight gain and severe exhaustion.
I was tired, anxious, and irritable, which are common symptoms of hypothyroidism. But the heart palpitations usually occur for people with hyperthyroidism – when the thyroid gland produces too much hormone.
I counted myself lucky that my symptoms were mild, except for the heart palpitations. My doctor prescribed a generic form of Synthroid to help regulate my hormone. He said I would likely be on this medication for the rest of my life. There are no known side effects of the medication, but my dosage would likely increase as I age.
How I live with hypothyroidism
Not knowing what my diagnosis was was the worst part of having a thyroid condition. Living with hypothyroidism is just a minor inconvenience. I make sure to take my levothyroxine with a full glass of water every morning before eating or drinking anything. My dosage has increased twice over the last 15 years as I’ve noticed more symptoms of fatigue or heart racing. I also see a cardiologist annually for an EKG to ensure my heart palpitations aren’t anything more serious.
Since being diagnosed, I’ve met dozens of people with thyroid disease, including my husband! I have his permission to share health conditions, so I’m not violating HIPAA. Like me, he takes medication daily and he doesn’t really notice any major issues due to his hypothyroidism.
For me and my husband, being diagnosed with a thyroid disease didn’t really disrupt our lives. Over the years, I’ve found that eating clean, drinking less, and staying consistent with my workouts help me feel more energized and less anxious.
We know that not everyone is as fortunate with their thyroid condition. 1 to 2% of people will get thyroid cancer in their lifetime.
Symptoms of cancer could include:
- A lump or swelling in the neck
- Changes in your voice
- Pain in your neck or throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swollen lymph node in the neck
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, please talk to your doctor.
How my diagnosis led to my career
One of the reasons I was determined to work in healthcare marketing was because of my experience with my hypothyroid diagnosis. I’ve learned that it is the patient’s responsibility to speak up when we don’t feel like we’re being heard by our providers. And it is the provider’s duty to listen with empathy and compassion and present all available options to the patient.
When done right, healthcare marketing can help educate and empower patients to take control of their own health through educational content and a tailored patient experience.
Need a passionate partner to lead your healthcare marketing efforts? Let’s talk.
About the Author
Stacey Harrison is the lead brand strategist and designer at Heart & Hustle Brands and has provided creative direction for healthcare, industrial, and financial services brands for 20 years. She started Harrison Creative Group in 2017 to serve businesses that need a professional brand image on a budget. In 2021, the company rebranded to Heart & Hustle Brands to walk in the shoes of clients that experience a change of name or brand refresh.