Back in July I had some blood tests run as I was getting headaches way too frequently, this had been going on for years really sometimes getting better and then coming back again. It was one of those things that I just accepted most of the time, worried about occasionally and then forgot about in the periods when they weren't too bad.
This year they had been too regular again and as I was settled here working for a while I decided it was time to properly check it out. So the doctor took lots of my blood (from both arms!!) and I awaited the results. Time passed, I tried to call her, she tried to call me and before I knew it we were well into August before I saw her again.
The diagnosis was hypothyroidism, ever heard or it? No I hadn't either! Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid or in my case a totally packed up thyroid which means not enough of the hormone thyroxine is produced for the body’s needs (or in my case no thyroxine is produced).
The hormone thyroxine influences the metabolism of your body cells. In other words, it regulates the speed with which your body cells work. If too much of the thyroid hormones are secreted, the body cells work faster than normal. On the other hand if too little of the thyroid hormones are produced, the cells and organs of your body slow down.
The most common symptoms of hypothyroidism are tiredness, feeling cold, weight gain, poor concentration, low mood or depression and constipation. As you know dear readers I had been struggling with weight gain hence why I started my healthy eating and power walking regime! I have also had tiredness and poor concentration but as for feeling cold well I'm usually too hot! Also no depression or constipation luckily.
Other symptoms can include headaches, dry and coarse skin, dry and thinning hair, muscle weakness, cramps and aches, pins and needles in the fingers and hand, heavier and longer periods, fertility problems, low libido, puffy face and bags under the eyes, slow speech, movements and thoughts and memory problems. In fact there are so many symptoms I haven't listed them all, there is a complete list HERE.
One of the more serious symptoms is how it can affect the health of your heart. An underactive thyroid can increase your risk of developing heart disease because it increases levels of "bad" cholesterol. Too much bad cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, which can increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Hypothyroidism can also result in the build up of fluid around the heart, a pericardial effusion, which may make it harder for the heart to pump blood.
There are also serious implications on the working of the kidney and liver and so it is really important to get yourself checked out if you have any of the symptoms. Worse case scenario if left untreated is myxedema.
Myxedema is the medical term for extreme hypothyroidism, when the disorder has progressed for a long time with no treatment. Myxedema is very rare because it's highly unlikely that you wouldn't recognize the symptoms and seek treatment. This form of hypothyroidism is life threatening. Myxedema can eventually slow metabolism to the point where you would fall into a coma. If you experience symptoms of myxedema, such as extreme fatigue or cold intolerance, seek medical treatment immediately.
The only real answer in the medical world at the moment is daily medication with levothyroxine, a synthetic version of the thyroxine produced by the thyroid gland. Levothyroxine is very pure, has negligible side-effects and causes virtually no allergies because it is similar to natural thyroxine. Most patients require between 125 and 150 micrograms a day. Patience is needed as it can take several months before you feel better and for the thyroid function tests to return to normal or be judged satisfactory by your doctor. During this period you will have regular thyroid function tests, usually every six to eight weeks.
Levothyroxine is best taken in the morning, with water, on an empty stomach, at least half an hour before eating and drinking anything. It is also best taken at least four hours apart from calcium, iron, cholesterol- lowering drugs (cholestyramine, colestipol), and multivitamin tablets, as these too can decrease absorption. Grapefruit on the other hand is known to increase the absorption of levothyroxine due to increased acid in the stomach. There are a number of other drugs that interact with levothyroxine.
Once the correct dose has been established it is unlikely to vary, although it is still important to have a blood test each year just to make sure. Too much levothyroxine will cause symptoms of an over-active thyroid and too little levothyroxine will not completely resolve symptoms of an under-active thyroid. The correct dose of levothyroxine is one that restores good health.
There is another hormone that can be taken for patients who don't respond to Levothyroxine and there is a natural alternative derived from animal hormones. As the animals it comes from have a higher amount produced in is not usually safe to prescribe to humans as it can lead to hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid) where too much thyroxine is produced for the body’s needs.
I have collected all this information from many different websites while researching this condition. If you want more information I would recommend starting with The British Thyroid Foundation, Thyroid UK and The British Thyroid Association.
So back to my story so far, I have now been on a very low dose (50mg) of Levothyroxine for 2 weeks so see no improvement of symptoms yet. I am due to have another blood test in about 2 weeks and back to see the doctor the following week so we'll see how it goes. I will keep you updated on here as it is a serious condition if left untreated and I feel it is important to make people aware of it.
One thing you get if diagnosed with hypothyroidism is free prescriptions for life. Doesn't really make up for it but worth knowing in case your doctor forgets to give you the form.
As for my exercising and healthy eating well I haven't done that well I'm afraid. I had a month off work in August and so didn't exercise much and drank red wine and ate biscuits and cake! On a positive note I did spend time with friends and go to a couple of festivals so I kept my mental health healthy! I had hurt my knee and so that put me out of power walking for a while and so I have been slowly getting back into it. As I am going away to Portugal and Spain in a few weeks for the winter there seems to be lots of other more important things to do at the moment. At least once we get to the south of Spain I will have a beautiful sandy beach to power walk up and down on every day and no huge supermarkets with aisles of cakes and biscuits tempting me!
Here's to good health and thanks for reading :) xxx