Photo of a woman with a goiter. (Photo by By Drahreg01 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2688708).
I've recently been feeling pretty bad so I went to a family doctor and she did a lot of tests to see if anything might be wrong with me. As it turns out, I have hypothyroidism. I looked up the symptoms later when I got home and it definitely seemed to match what I had been experiencing. In fact, I've been having many of these symptoms for years. Some of them I never bothered to do anything about simply because they were symptoms that can be related to so many different illnesses. I assumed if I mentioned them to a doctor my concerns would just be brushed off. I also learned that many people confuse the difference between hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's disease. So I thought I'd explain the difference.
First of all, your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that controls several important body functions, including your metabolism. It influences digestion, mood, menstrual cycles, energy levels, and even heart rate. So as you can imagine, if something is wrong with it, you can feel pretty terrible.
Your thyroid can become overactive and produce too much hormone which is called hyperthyroidism or it can become underactive which is called hypothyroidism. But Hashimoto's disease is an autoimmune illness that causes that body's immune system to attack the thyroid. Doctors don't know why this occurs but they do know sometimes it results in hypothyroidism and sometimes it doesn't. If you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism you are likely to have Hashimoto's disease as well because Hashimoto's disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland doesn't release enough of two hormones called T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). It is most common in females over the age of 60 but it can happen to anyone. It usually comes on slowly and goes unnoticed for a long time. However, eventually, you'll probably notice something is wrong. Symptoms can include fatigue, weight gain, feeling cold all the time, slowed heart rate, constipation, depression, dry skin, irregular or heavier menstrual cycles, thinning hair, memory issues, pain in your joints, and more severe cases can cause a goiter which is a swollen area of the neck. This happens when the thyroid swells as it works harder to release the hormones you need.
Usually, hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto's but if it is caused by another problem it tends to come on a lot more suddenly. For instance, some issues that can cause it include thyroid surgery or medications that are used to treat other problems.
If you have hyperthyroidism you might experience symptoms that are quite different such as unexplained weight loss, trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability, heart palpitations, or a rapid heartbeat.
If you suspect you might be having thyroid problems it can easily be diagnosed by a primary care doctor or an endocrinologist with some simple blood tests. There is no cure for the condition. However, it can be treated with medication. In my case, I'm taking a synthetic hormone called Levothyroxine. This drug must be taken once a day on an empty stomach and it takes a few weeks for it to build up to a normal level in your body.
I do not have Hashimoto's but it's important to know the difference between Hashimoto's and hypothyroidism due to other causes. If you have Hashimoto's you could be at risk for other autoimmune illnesses as well such as celiac or pernicious anemia (also known as B12 deficiency).
If you've been experiencing any of these symptoms I strongly encourage you to see your doctor. I've been suffering from random aches and pains and constant fatigue for years now. I'm also overweight and I have struggled with trying to lose weight for years. Experts say that only about 10-15 pounds of excess weight can be attributed to an underactive thyroid but in my opinion, the constant pain and fatigue contribute to being overweight as well in an indirect way. Every time I tried to workout I'd become exhausted and I just couldn't do it. Since I've been on medication I've already started to feel better. I've even started working out again and I've lost 6 pounds. I think this is a condition that goes unnoticed and likely causes a lot of unnecessary suffering.
References: MayoClinic.org. Hashimoto's Disease Accessed at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hashimotos-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20351855 on May 18, 2018.
Self. 6 Common Thyroid Disorders And Their Causes Accessed at https://www.self.com/story/6-common-thyroid-disorders-and-their-causes on May 18, 2018.