Hypothyroidism not as bad as it sounds

Debbie Porteous. Photo by ODT.
Debbie Porteous. Photo by ODT.
Health conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, affect many people in our communities. Debbie Porteous talks about her own personal experience of how hypothyroidism affects her life.

''I wake up every day planning to be productive. Then my thyroid says `Ha, that's a good one,' and we laugh, and laugh and then, I take a nap.''- Hashi Humor, Pinterest

Feeling old? Maybe dog tired? Maybe it's time to get your thyroid checked out. Maybe it's time to take your thyroxine properly - you know who you are. I'm one of your people.

I dislike my thyroid. It makes me sick (and tired). And in such a common as muck, oh so irritating way.

They say the thyroid gland regulates hormone levels in the body. I'd say they know what they are talking about, because when mine's out of whack, I become what I like to call ''a crazy lady''.

My husband probably likes to call it something else.

I should know about it, I've been having my hashi moments since I was 11, when hormones changed my life forever.

Naturally, it's the ladies who are most often inflicted with this insidious (yes, let's be fair, also quite easily controlled) little disease.

According to Dunedin endocrinologist Associate Prof Patrick Manning - and he should know - people are born with a predisposition to thyroid disease. Often it's a family thing.

Garden variety hypothyroidism - mine, and by far the most common - is the auto-immune form known as Hashimoto's Disease.

At some point, he says, as we go about our lives, something in a person's environment (not even he knows what) triggers the body to start attacking its own thyroid gland. Eventually - it usually takes years - the gland is rendered completely inactive.

As it gradually produces less and less thyroid hormone, the sufferer starts feeling cold, tired and depressed.

Fortunately, when one considers the other possible disorders of the endocrine one could be lumped with, hypothyroidism is treated easily and successfully with hormone replacement medication called thyroxine.

In fact, the biggest issue doctors face with thyroid patients is them not taking their pills properly. I can vouch for how easy it is to forget it is the pills making you feel completely normal.

And yes, you do have to have those blood(y) tests every six months, or a year, because, as Prof Manning explains, the gland's deterioration is progressive and you might need more. Also, it is terribly common to be over - or under - treated.

Once you have this precious treat, it will be with you forever. The thyroid has no capacity to regenerate or repair itself.

There are no side-effects from the treatment and only a few possible known complications from the disease, even when properly treated.

Pregnant women with Hashimoto's typically have to up their thyroxine dose by about 30% to look after the foetus' development, especially its nervous system.

In women with hypothyroidism the risk of miscarriage is higher, and while he won't say it is a cause of infertility, it seems oft to be mentioned in conjunction with problems that lead to infertility, such as endometriosis or ovarian problems.

The risk of getting other auto-immune diseases such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis is also higher in people with hypothyroidism.

While the disease is common, the rates are not well known, and because the symptoms are so non-specific - tiredness, feeling cold - the rate of undiagnosed people is likely to be high.

Because it is easily and effectively treated with medication there is not a lot of impetus to find out what triggers the body to start attacking its own bits in the first place, Prof Manning says.

It could be triggered by something in the diet, possibly a virus kicks it off, possibly the female hormone oestrogen has a role - maybe that's why it's more common in women.

Interestingly, it is a common misconception that a lack of iodine causes the disease.

On a cheerier note, did I mention it is easily treated and you should be completely normal (hmm) if you keep taking your pills? Well, that's the truth. It could be worse.



A person with hypothyroidism is most likely to experience a crash in energy, mental dullness, weight gain, cold intolerance, constipation, dry skin and hair, changes in mood, depression.

What is the thyroid?

A small gland at the base of your neck. It makes, stores and releases thyroid hormones into the blood, thus regulating metabolism. These hormones are essential for the proper functioning of all bodily tissues and organs. They enable our body to use its stores of energy efficiently, thereby controlling temperature and allowing our muscles to work properly.

Who has it?

Mainly women. It is eight times more common in women than men.

Severe complications if left untreated

A heart rate so slow it can cause patients to slip into a coma; higher blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels (significant risk factors of heart disease); issues with fertility; Alzheimer's disease (increased risk in women).

The treatment

Thyroxine; some promote whole thyroid extract, which uses the hormone from animals.

The cure



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