Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hashi WHO? My experience with Thyroid Autoimmunity.

In 2008 I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which your thyroid gland is attacked by your own immune system. Prior to my diagnosis, I had just a basic idea of what the thyroid did or why it was important. My vague understanding (or maybe I should call it misunderstanding!) was that persons whose thyroids didn't work properly struggled with their weight, or grew goiters. 

Until one day my aunt and I were chatting and she noticed a lump at the front of my throat and said I should probably check it out. I hate going to the doctor but I figured I might as well, after all I hadn't been feeling by best lately, including feeling reaaally tired ALL the time. But I figured working in a high stress environment and the fact that I was preparing to relocate to another country (Cuba) were all just too exhausting. 

The doctor I saw did blood tests and an ultrasound on my throat area and told me it was just swelling "probably from lifting something heavy" because everything in the tests appeared normal. He gave me some pills to take anyway and some antibiotics too (can't leave those out, right?) The pills made me feel SICK to my stomach, but I tried to take them because I wanted to feel better, I finished the antibiotics, but couldn't bear to finish the other meds. I didn't feel any better and that curious lump was still at the front of my neck, but then I thought: “Wait a minute, I'm moving to Cuba, and everyone raves about their healthcare system, I'll go get it checked out when I get there.”

A few weeks later, I walked into the department of general medicine at Cira Garcia Hospital in Havana. When I sat down in front of the doctor he immediately asked me: "I'm guessing you are here to be referred to the endocrinology clinic?" He explained that I had facial signs of thyroid dysfunction (did you know your thyroid even messes with your eyebrows too?) and then pointed to the same lump on the front of my neck. To make along story quite short, I begun working with the endocrinology clinic to deal with the lump or nodule that was growing in my thyroid. I was subsequently diagnosed with Hashimoto's

I was fortunate to work with a very good endocrinologist who encouraged me to do my own reading and to ask him questions when I came for visits. In addition to working to get my meds right, he also incorporated lifestyle changes into my programme, such as suggested dietary changes, an exercise programme and spoke to me very seriously about reducing my stress levels. 

As much as my doctor gave me very good information, it was during the times that I did my own reading that I really started understanding what the thyroid did, how important it was that it function properly, the seriousness of the condition I had, the changes I had to make to help me get better. I realised then how many symptoms I had over the years without knowing it: the menstrual issues, the fact that I had trouble sleeping at night and even more trouble getting out of bed in the morning, the exhaustion (I've been exhausted to the point of passing out on my street while walking to work), my perennial tummy issues, elevated cholesterol and so much more.

It is REALLY important that you be proactive about your own health! I had never really developed the habit of asking doctors questions when they said things that didn’t make sense to me, or researching medications they prescribed, so I know exactly what I'm taking. Or calling my doctor if the pills they prescribed didn’t agree with me. Thyroid disease often masks as so many other diseases that it can go undetected for a long period of time. Familiarise yourself with the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, and if you feel like you may possibly have a problem go to a doctor and get a PROPER thyroid function test (not just TSH, as many indicators as possible: T3, T4, thyroid antibodies, etc).

July is THYROID DISEASE AWARENESS MONTH at Just Bee You! So be sure to check back here during this month for more posts on the thyroid. You can also follow Just Bee You on Facebook and Instagram (@justbeeyoutiful) for more posts.

BY THE WAY, I am by no means an expert or endocrinologist, this is just regular ole me =) sharing my experiences with thyroid autoimmunity. Always do your own research and also follow directives of qualified medical professionals.

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