Kirklin Clinic Head & Neck Cancer Support Group, Birmingham, AL
distributed by American Cancer Society
Pat Sanders, Editor
HOW IS YOUR THYROID WORKING By Pat Sanders
Even without having thyroid damage from surgery or radiation, 1 out of 5 women, by the time they are near retirement, will require medication because they have low functioning thyroid glands (failure of the thyroid to produce the right amounts of thyroid hormones). Men are hypothyroid in lesser numbers but everyone who has had a laryngectomy or radiation to the neck area should be checked regularly because our numbers are higher. I have not seen any statistics on women with radiation and/or laryngectomy surgery (and probably never will because it is too much of a sub-section) but a small perspective is: 4 of my closest friends (non-larys) and I are the reverse of the above statistics. Only one is not on medication to help with thyroid function.
Sometimes reading the symptoms of thyroid disease, it is easy to get confused. You will find lists of about a dozen symptoms that are basic and there are extended lists that add 50 others to what might be happening to you. Simply put, the thyroid controls your metabolism so it affects your whole body. Each of us may notice symptoms that particularly bother us but we may blame those symptoms on other diseases since some are so generalized. If you are already taking medication for hypothyroidism, you might still like to look over the list again because when you start to get symptoms after being stabilized on medication, then you may need to be retested and your medication may need to be increased.
If you combine some of the problems caused by hypothyroidism into sub-groups it makes more sense. These are my thoughts that may help you to understand the symptoms and to mention that some of your other medications may mask or exacerbate these symptoms.
Retaining fluids causes a large number of the symptoms that are often listed separately. Weight gain caused by water retention doesn’t let your body function the way it should normally. You may be wondering why your weight is going up, maybe up 10 pounds, seemingly for no reason. (Regular weight gain is a different problem and thyroid meds will not make you lose that weight).
Symptoms listed that can relate to that are the puffy face, hands, feet, or knees, which can in turn cause stiffness and aching in the joints. Because fluids are not working properly, you may be constipated. The worse your hypothyroidism becomes the worse this problem gets.
Your body may not be getting enough moisture in your hair, skin, or fingernails. Your hair may be very dry and falling out. Your mouth may be dry and your tongue might feel thick (in addition to the dryness caused by damage to saliva glands which may or may not be permanent). They also mention a hoarse voice which would not be unusual for a larynx cancer patient but can be an indication to others.
Muscle aches, joint pain, weakness, tenderness and stiffness, especially in your larger joints are often looked at as symptoms of getting older and carpal tunnel syndrome is regarded as improper usage of the wrist area, but they can be aggravated or even caused by hypothyroidism.
You may have an increased sensitivity to cold and find yourself wearing a sweater and shivering when others are bare armed. At the same time, so many women are in the process of having hot flashes from menopause at this time of life that they never get the cold body symptom or they seem to run “hot and cold”.
General sluggishness is common. So is anemia. Low body temperature is one of the ways of testing for this disease although blood testing is necessary to diagnose and find the proper dosage of medication.
If your blood cholesterol levels are elevated, especially the LDL, it would be a good idea to check your thyroid before you start taking medication to lower your cholesterol since being hypothyroid can affect the cholesterol levels. You could be treating the symptom instead of the cause.
Thyroid disease can create insulin resistance which means your stored fat is not turned into energy and your excess carbohydrates cause you to gain weight. If you are diabetic, you particularly need to watch your thyroid.
Severe fatigue is one of the major complaints. Not the kind of tiredness when you have worked all day but a bone weary exhaustion. This can lead to or tie in with depression, lack of sleep, and the inability to plan well. Let’s face it, you don’t much care.
You may find that you are not thinking clearly and your brain is in a fog. You may be confused, disoriented and can’t remember as well as you used to. Of course, this can be old age, Alzheimer’s, medications, or hypothyroidism as well as other reasons. You might be irritable (ask your mate!) and find it hard to control your temper. If you are having these problems and they are severe, it can become too much to handle just to be asked what you want for dinner.
A few years back we were writing on WebWhispers about thyroid and some of us were telling our stories. One of our members wrote, shortly thereafter, and said she thought she was going nuts. Her personality had changed and it was difficult to handle the job she loved. As I remember, she said that she went to the doctor the next day and the results were back a few days later…hypothyroid. She said her whole life changed along with her attitude toward it.
Don’t assume that your doctor has run a thyroid test when your annual physical includes a blood test. Ask. They just take another little vial of blood. It is not a fasting test. In the not so far distant past, many doctors would ask us why we wanted that test but most are well aware now that this can be a side effect of our treatments. Thyroid conditions do not get better with time. They require a medication that replaces what your body no longer produces properly. Treatment usually consists of a small, inexpensive pill, once a day, for the rest of your life. Not a problem when it gives you a good life back. If you are put on medication to normalize your thyroid hormones, be sure to follow instructions because some other medications and some foods interfere with it.
We all need to get our thyroid testing done once a year. Ask your doctor. It is important.
(An inspirational WebWhispers list message from 7/6/1998 during a discussion on the usage of radiation therapy and how our members felt about it.)
Hello to all:
This is my first post but I really want to put in my 2 cents worth.
I have been a laryngectomee since May 1982. I'm not angry, I'm well adjusted and I only have myself to blame for cancer. I have given many speeches to Jr. High and Sr. High students, worked with the Am. Cancer, belonged to a marvelous group of laryngectomees and have visited many new laryngectomees in the hospital.
I had 31 radiation treatments which only made my cancer mad, changed Drs and ran to Seattle Wa to see Drs. better prepared to handle a very aggressive cancer. I could not breathe, had to sit up all the time gasping for air and at that point, I would have done anything for relief. Went in for a biopsy, ended up in ICU and rushed into surgery not totally prepared for what lie ahead.
The surgeon did a marvelous job but there was 1/2 of a cancer cell missing, so - in came the oncologist - we will now start chemotherapy treatments. That lasted for 1 year, probably the year that saved my life. I was living my life one day at a time during that year. Couldn't swallow, couldn't talk, couldn't walk. My ankles hurt from the chemo; my nose ran for one solid year; I couldn't smell, had a dry mouth.
I could go on and on - but I was alive and fighting and that is what counts. All I wanted to do was walk out to the barn and visit my calves and horses but I couldn't even do that and then day by day when I finished with chemo everything got better but one day at a time. It took years of messing up my health with cigs and it took a few more years to feel normal again.
I don't even pay attention to the fact that I can not speak normal. I speak just fine with my Servox and if I turn up the volume, my husband says I'm yelling at him -- life is normal.
It is rough in the beginning, but believe- you- me, it does get better and life is good, very good. I am on prescription drugs for thyroid malfunction caused by radiation. If I'm in the sun too much I break out in a rash from my old radiation burns. I treat this rash with lavender oil and it takes out the burn. Radiation did not work for me, but maybe with all the treatment combined, I function today as a normal healthy woman.
Who knows, I certainly don't, but I do know that those who have to walk in these shoes do in fact know better than those who don't.
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