One in eight women is likely to develop some type of thyroid disorder. Over 20 million people suffer from some kind of thyroid disease in the U.S.— but up to 60% go undiagnosed. Once you do get diagnosed, it can feel like a jigsaw puzzle to start managing your thyroid symptoms. Read on to learn some of the ways women are living with thyroid disease.
Understanding Thyroid Disease
The thyroid is essential to overall hormonal balance and body function. It helps control metabolism, cholesterol levels, heart, bone, and muscle health. Thyroid disease is when the thyroid gets affected by too much thyroid hormone, too little thyroid hormone, other significant hormonal changes, or cancer.
If someone has too much activity in their thyroid (hyperthyroidism), the body produces too much thyroid hormone and uses up a lot of energy too quickly. A person with hyperthyroidism may feel drained of energy, anxious, irritable, and have a rapid heartbeat. They also might struggle to gain or keep on weight.
The thyroid can sometimes produce too little hormone, which is called hypothyroidism. This makes a person feel fatigued, sluggish, cold, and depressed, and can cause them to experience weight gain.
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system wrongfully attacks the thyroid gland. Grave’s disease is another thyroid autoimmune disease that causes hyperthyroidism but often results in an underactive thyroid after the gland is surgically removed. Thyroid cancer varies in severity. Treatments include radiation therapy, surgery, and radioiodine therapy.
Living With Thyroid Disease
If you’ve been diagnosed with thyroid disease, it can be overwhelming to know what to do to live with such unpleasant symptoms. But through medication, consistent healthcare checks, and lifestyle improvements, thyroid disease management is often possible. Here’s how.
Communicate With Your Doctor
Never self-diagnose yourself just because your symptoms match a diagnostic criteria. You need to see a medical professional and get lab work to rule out any other diagnoses first. Plus, since there are different types of thyroid disorders, a medical specialist can guide you on the right treatment and thyroid management protocols.
Monitor Your Medication
Treatment for thyroid disorders often involves medication. Many include hormone replacement medication to balance out hormones that are insufficiently or excessively produced by the thyroid. Synthroid and levothyroxine are two common medications for hypothyroidism, which is the most common thyroid disorder in women.
Track Your Symptoms
It can help to track your symptoms in a notebook or diary so you can be aware of what’s normal and abnormal for you.
Pay attention to:
Food and digestion
Your menstrual cycle
Which habits drain you vs uplift you
Changes in vision; puffy, bulging, or irritated eyes
Tracking symptoms can help your medical providers adjust your treatment or medication to suit your needs. The first step to self-advocacy in thyroid disease is to be very clear about your symptoms. Being aware is a major step toward improving your well-being.
It’s likely that you’ll get your hormones and blood work done routinely in order to monitor your thyroid. The frequency of tests is determined by your doctor— but if you feel your treatment is ineffective after several months, request a check-in.
Regulate Your Lifestyle
Certain lifestyle habits can decrease thyroid disease symptoms and improve overall health. Depending on what type of thyroid disease you have, some stressors can trigger your condition.
Here are the top lifestyle changes to manage.
Food: Certain foods can be detrimental to different people. A lot of “thyroid diets” recommend staying away from soy, raw cruciferous vegetables, gluten, and some supplements. Since everyone’s body is different, an elimination diet can be helpful to find out what foods don’t digest well for you.
Sleep: Getting enough sleep is crucial for managing energy levels that are often affected by thyroid disorders. Prioritize your sleep (at least eight hours per night), take power naps when necessary, and allow yourself to rest when you feel exhausted.
Exercise: Having a regular movement routine can help tone your muscles, keep you energized, and manage your overall health.
Self-Care: Relaxation and listening to your body are helpful when managing thyroid disease. Prioritize your self-care, which is a combination of all the routines and experiences you create for yourself. Self-care encourages you to maintain the time, energy, and nourishment you need to function day-to-day.
Caffeine and Alcohol: Minimize your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and other substances. These can affect your hormones, impact your nervous system, and take time for your body to recuperate.
Comfortable Clothes: One of the main symptoms of hypothyroidism is feeling colder than usual. If you live in a cool climate or struggle with feeling cold, try to dress in layers so you can manage your body temperature.
Remember, it might take time to discover the lifestyle and medical treatments that best work for you. You can learn more about this process in the book, Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate: When You’re Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired.
More on Managing Thyroid Disorder
At Fempower Health, we know what it’s like to struggle with symptoms that seem uncontrollable. Addressing thyroid disorder head-on is crucial to preventing long-term negative effects. You’re not alone— many women have shared their experiences.
Check out these resources on how to manage a thyroid problem. And these are related podcast episodes.
Podcast Episode: Denise Roguz on Undiagnosed Thyroid Symptoms
Podcast Episode: Victoria Gasparini on the Thyroid Disease Butterfly Effect
As always, if you know someone who would benefit from this information, share this post with them!