Feel exhausted all the time?
Lack energy or fight to get out of bed most mornings?
Have uncontrollable breakouts?
Find yourself squinting/sensitive to bright daylight?
Often feel cold or randomly have the chills?
Feel lightheaded, dizzy or occasionally see stars?
Gain or lose weight with no obvious explanation?
Have trouble gaining or losing weight no matter how hard you try?
Struggle with mood swings, anxiety or depressive episodes?
Feel irritable or frustrated about all of the above?
If yes, you should ask your doctor about your thyroid.
I've been diagnosed with hypothyroidism for about a year now, and I can't tell you how thankful I am that my primary care automatically tested my TSH and T4 levels in a regulatory blood test.
Before doing my research, I was much like most people reading this article: that is, asking myself, "what in the world are TSH and T4 levels?" when a nurse called to tell me my levels were imbalanced.
TSH stands for Thyroid Simulating Hormone. If test results come back with abnormal TSH levels, a doctor may call for a T4 test. T4 is a hormone produced by the thyroid that affects growth and metabolism.
When these levels are out of whack, the results can be pretty devastating.
A major problem with these diseases is that the symptoms are so vague. People will experience a lot of these symptoms and convince themselves that they are clinically depressed, have anxiety, have bad genes or are just simply bad at losing/gaining weight.
For the longest time, I convinced myself that I wasn't doing enough or simply incapable of losing weight. All of high school, I struggled with my body image, but I was so frustrated with myself that I didn't have time to care what others thought. Post-graduation, I spent my entire first semester of college going to the gym, walking my dogs when I couldn't, and even taking a boxing class.
I cut back as much as I could out of my diet and still couldn't shed more than two pounds over the course of four months. I slept whenever and wherever I had the chance, constantly picked at my skin and convinced myself I was manic depressive.
I gave up.
I would get angry when I would see anything motivational post on social media encouraging me to "be the change" I wanted to see in myself. Don't even get me started on friends and family who offered to help me cut back or work out together. I felt terrible rolling my eyes and declining, but no one understood how hard it was for me to put in all of this effort and see no change (including myself).
What was the point in trying?
I felt like a failure.
Every time I went to the doctor, I mentioned how hard it was for me to lose weight, especially when comments were noted about my weight gain in the system. They started altering my birth control, switching me back and forth between brands in hopes or relieving some of my symptoms, including irregular and extremely heavy menstrual cramps and periods.
No one ever even mentioned hypothyroidism was a possibility.
I moved across the country and spent another semester of college walking to and from campus, going to the gym and eating as best as I could. I thought the fresh start would help me get back on track, but I still managed to gain thirty pounds in another four months. It wasn't until I went in for a general checkup with a new primary care doctor that I found out my thyroid was behind all of it.
Once I got that phone call, I hopped online and started doing my research. The doctor wanted to start me on medication as soon as possible. It took me a while to come to terms with having to take medication every single day for the rest of my life. I cried-- a lot -- partly because of the stigma, but mostly because I was happy to finally have an explanation.
A week after being on the medication, I was awake, alert and several pounds lighter.
Disclaimer: I am not condoning taking this medication as a form of weight loss. I'm also not condoning a "one size fits all" approach to thyroid medication. Every patient's levels require a different amount of micro-grams depending on his or her condition.
However, it did open my eyes to the fact that there was hope for me. There's no telling how long I've been affected by hypothyroidism pre-diagnosis. There's also no telling where I would be had I not gotten tested.
What was even more alarming was how under-reported it is because people spend months or even years believing their symptoms are mental health related when there is often a hormonal imbalance that is not typically tested on a regulatory blood test.
If it's there, it's so important to get it under control so it doesn't hold you back.
If it's not, you can rule it out as an option and head in another direction.
Take the next step in understanding your health.
Talk to your doctor. Ask about a T4 test. Trust me, it's worth it.