I hope everyone is having a happy new year so far. 2019 is bringing a new focus for Swim Strokes. Although we're not one year old yet, we're making some important changes to add topics that will correspond with the 2019 calendar. One change is that we will choose our topic for each month to match the national or international awareness months, weeks or days. As Kelly Aiglon points out, "One of the biggest tools we have to fight health conditions is the power of human connection. That's why awareness months, weeks, and days are so important. They rally us together to spread awareness and show support." (Aiglon, December 2018). We at Swim Strokes think Kelly is right. That's why we'll be choosing our topics accordingly. The first health issue we've chosen to cover in January is thyroid disease since January is "Thyroid Awareness Month." This year we will be covering the following types of thyroid disease: Hashimoto's thyroiditis and thyroid cancer.
What is the thyroid gland? According to the Endocrine Society's Hormone Health Network, "The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland inside the neck, located in front of the trachea (windpipe) and below the larynx (voice box). It produces two thyroid hormones – triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) – that travel through the blood to all tissues of the body." These hormones regulate how our bodies break down food and how the energy from the food is used immediately or stored for future use. These thyroid hormones, then, are essential in regulating our bodies' metabolism. (Endocrine Society, July 2018)
This is an autoimmune disease, which means that if you have this condition, your immune system, which is designed to protect your body and fight diseases, goes rogue and attacks your own body. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, which most commonly attacks the joints or my Behcet's, which often attacks the skin and eyes (Life on the Deep End, Chapter Three), Hashimoto's disease attacks the thyroid gland. This attack often results in preventing the thyroid gland from making enough thyroid hormone. The result is hypothyroidism. This condition, which occurs more often in women, tends to appear as people get older.
I can't tell you how important it was to me, after years of feeling unwell, to finally have a name for my health problems. Even if that name doesn't roll trippingly off the tongue, it made a huge difference in my ability to cope – just to have that name. I'm sure if you have gone a long time with strange or accumulating symptoms you didn't understand, and then, are finally diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, you, too, are relieved just to have that name.
Not everyone will have all these symptoms. However, according to WebMD's Simply Health Today, some of the possible symptoms include:
Water retention (puffy face)
Slight weight gain
Hoarse voice and sore throat
Irregular or heavy menstruation
Increased sensitivity to cold environments
Cognitive problems such as loss of memory or "brain fog"
Sensitivity to medications you are currently using
(WebMD.com, Retrieved January 16, 2019)
Just remember that your symptoms don't define YOU! They merely help define the disease you happen to have. You are much more than your symptoms. I wish someone had made that clear to me when I was first diagnosed. I had to come to this conclusion on my own. It's really hard to read all those symptoms in your medical chart and not believe that is who you are. In time, I realized that it was important for me to remember that I was much more than the symptoms of my illness. When I did finally achieve this self-revelation, I made it my mission to make sure that my doctors remembered that, too.
If you've been diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, try journaling descriptions of yourself that go beyond your symptoms outlined above.
What are your favorite activities, career goals, hobbies or special skills?
What relationships or roles or allegiances are also important in defining who you are?
It can be frightening to think of the worst that could happen if the disease is not managed. Just remember that the odds of the worst happening are greatly reduced by early diagnosis and treatment intervention. That's why it's so important to get an accurate diagnosis and to find the right treatment for you. Make sure you find a doctor that will explain these issues with you and will allow you to express your concerns openly.
There is a lot of great information available from a variety of sources that can explain the diagnosis process and how to begin your new life with it. There are special blood tests your doctor can order (such as TSH, T4 and T3, and anti-TPO). For a full explanation of these tests, you can go to www.hormone.org. Here you will find out about the standard tests used to diagnose this illness as well as the treatments that are available and questions to ask your doctor. You will also find similar types of information at this Simply Health Today article on Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. Also, you may also want to check out these two books on autoimmune disease: The Autoimmune Connection: Essential Information for Women on Diagnosis, Treatment, and Getting on with Your Life, by Rita Baron-Faust and Jill P. Buyon, M.D. (Baron-Faust & Buyon, 2002) and Living Well with Autoimmune Disease, by Mary Shomon (Shomon, 2002).
In Baron-Faust and Buyon's book, Chapter 4 is entitled, The Elusive Butterfly Gland – Thyroid Disease. This chapter covers both Hashimoto's disease and Grave's disease. In Mary Shomon's book, you will find valuable information from someone who has Hashimoto's, herself. She covers the difficulty she had in getting an accurate diagnosis and ways deal with the symptoms.
I found that getting an accurate diagnosis of Rheumatoid disease to me was the first step in getting on with my life. Although my doctors changed the name several times, at least knowing from them that there really was something happening in my body outside of my control that could be treated, was a huge gain. To me, it was the beginning of my own healing journey that has lasted about three decades. Hopefully, you will find your own diagnosis much sooner than I did. If you have been diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, connect with us here at Swim Strokes. Reach out to us in the comments below! You might let us know how long it took to achieve your diagnosis or about special problems you experienced during that process. We want to support you in a positive way. Help us make this a healing year for you and many others who log on and faithfully follow our site.
Aiglon, Kelly. 2019 Awareness calendar. Healthline.com, December 7, 2018. Endocrine Society. Hormone Health Network, "Thyroid Disorders." Edited by Bryan Haugen, MD, et al, July 2018. Simply Health Today. "Ten Details You Should Know About Hashimoto's Thyroiditis." Retrieved, January 16, 2019. Endocrine Society, Hormone Health Network, "Hashimoto's Disease." September 2017. Baron-Faust, Rita and Buyon, Jill P., M.D. The Autoimmune Connection: Essential Information for Women on Diagnosis, Treatment, and Getting on with Your Life. New York, McGraw-Hill, 2002. Shomon, Mary J. Living Well with Autoimmune Disease: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You That You Need to Know. New York, HarperCollins, 2002.