I never realized how complicated thyroid disorders could be until I co-wrote the book, “The Everything Health Guide to Thyroid Disease” with Dr. Theodore Friedman, an endocrinologist and chief of endocrinology, metabolism and molecular medicine at Charles Drew University in Los Angeles. It quickly became apparent that this small bow-tie shaped gland is a power player in the body, one who could inflict a lot of chaos and confusion.
My husband’s cousin for instance, is currently trying to decide what to do about a nodule her doctor recently found. A fine needle biopsy provided no information, and a scan showed it was “cold,” which meant the nodule wasn’t churning out any thyroid hormone — and that she had a higher risk for thyroid cancer. The only way to know for sure if it’s cancerous is to have surgery and remove the nodule — and her thyroid. She’s nervous about it and hasn’t made a decision.
Not long ago, I finally joined what my friend calls the Synthroid Society and began taking a small dosage of levothyroxine myself. Levothyroxine is the generic version of Synthroid, the best-selling thyroid hormone replacement medication. My TSH had tested slightly high for a few years. (For the uninitiated, TSH is what the pituitary gland produces when your thyroid isn’t making enough thyroid hormone.) It wasn’t terribly dramatic, so I had resisted doing anything about it. But after feeling a little more tired than usual, I decided it was time.
Luckily for me, I got it right the first time. A follow-up blood test six weeks after I started levothyroxine showed my TSH levels were back to normal.
Most people aren’t so lucky. Consider my friend MJ who spent years trying to figure out why she felt so anxious and tired. Doctors eventually determined she was taking too much Levoxyl, and it was making her jumpy and wearing her out. Reducing the dosage helped, but she’s worried how the extra Levoxyl all those years may have affected her bones.
Meanwhile, my friend Cheryl is still trying to figure out why her TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) levels are so high when she’s already taking a relatively high dose of Synthroid. Should she take Armour instead? Maybe add some Cytomel? For now, she’s taking selenium and iron along with her levothyroxine and feeling a little bit better.
And then of course, there was my husband’s episode with a thyroid nodule that turned out to harbor cancer cells. He took out one lobe of his thyroid and wound up in the Synthroid Society too.
Truth is, when you have an organ that does as much as the thyroid does, there are many things that can go wrong. It sets your metabolism, regulates your heart rate and respiration, and controls your GI tract. It also affects your mood, your bones and skin. It’s enough to make your head reel.
But maybe you just have brain fog, which is a sign of hypothyroidism.