Two years ago, if someone would have asked me where the anatomical location is of the thyroid gland and what its function is, I could have answered that question no problem.   The question I couldn’t answer was the effect a thyroid disorder had on the body, debilitating a person physically and  mentally.  I found that all out on my own in the months to come.  Thanks to some of the medical classes taken for my degree (anatomy & physiology, microbiology, pharmacology), I knew that the thyroid, although small in size, was a powerhouse when it came to functionality in the body.  One of the busiest glands in the body, it regulates metabolism, temperature and plays a hand in numerous other body processes.  Situated right over the trachea, the butterfly shaped gland began giving me problems one day about two years ago.  The symptoms came out of nowhere, I remember one day feeling like I had just ran a marathon, all of  my body processes seemingly hurried. My palms clammy, heart on the verge of being tachycardic, tremors, and my mind just wouldn’t shut off, I had racing thoughts about anything and everything. I felt exhausted, all I wanted to do was sleep to make the symptoms subside, only I couldn’t, my sleep became interrupted, sometimes waking up frequently throughout the night, I couldn’t figure it out; I hadn’t done anything other than my usual routine: errands, class, dinner, sleep, repeat.

In the  months that followed, I began losing weight; rapidly.  Okay, so a lot of women out there would love to be able to lose weight effortlessly right?  But, when your weight loss is due to a thyroid condition, it’s definitely not fun.  The weight  loss is accompanied by a slew of other side effects.  After about two months of  temperature intolerance, irritability, tremors, nervousness, trouble sleeping and almost 20 lbs. lost, I brought it to the attention of my primary care physician.

Doctor P. was one of those personable, super-caring doctors; the kind who made you feel like you were their surrogate daughter.  In addition to talking about my medical history and if I had any allergies to medications, we would talk about my surgical tech. classes,  boyfriends and life in general.  She palpated my thyroid area and immediately noticed some nodules.  I remembered from anatomy class that nodules were abnormal growths of tissue; no need to be alarmed.  However, the question stood in my head, why were there abnormal growths all of a sudden? She instructed  me to get blood work done for measurement of t4 (Thyroxine), t3 (Triiodothyronine) and TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) levels, as well as a thyroid uptake & scan and a biopsy. Biopsy!?  That was kind of a serious word.  While I’ve never been one of those hypochondriacs who jump the gun and self diagnose myself with all these terminal illnesses, I just told myself that it was part of the diagnosis process, these tests were necessary to find out what’s been going on in that gland for the past few months, and also could unlock the key as to why I’ve been feeling so out of sorts and grappling with these symptoms everyday.

A thyroid uptake & scan is a nuclear imaging test where the patient swallows a small amount of radiographic Iodine to highlight the thyroid gland and assess the condition of the nodules, whether they’re “hot” or “cold”.  In the endocrinology world, a hot thyroid nodule is one that rapidly absorbs Iodine, often times too much,  putting the body into a hyperactive state known as Hyperthyroidism.  A cold nodule is one that doesn’t absorb enough Iodine or very little, thus putting the body into an underactive state known as Hypothyroidism. I laid down under the gamma camera and let the CT scanner take pictures of my gland, took about 15 minutes.  The test revealed that I had what was known as Multi-nodular goiter, which translated from medical terms means I had multiple nodule growths all over  my thyroid and some of these were Hot nodules.  So I thought that was odd, but didn’t see any cause for alarm as nodules were usually benign growths to begin with.

A week later I went for the biopsy.  My first biopsy ever.  All I’ll say is getting a huge needle stuck into your neck is not fun.  Even with the anesthesia, not fun. No bueno.  As the radiology technicians finished prepping my neck with aseptic solution, the radiologist came in, an old guy with peppered hair and glasses.  His bedside  manner was nice, we chatted briefly about what I was studying in school and he quizzed me about some surgical instruments.  With the one radiology tech. guiding the ultrasound, the doctor administered Lidocaine into my thyroid, producing a sensation similar to a bee sting.  Then came the actual biopsy needle. I saw that thing and my palms became instantly clammy, a nervous reaction of mine.  I just looked up at the ceiling and he began aspirating it.  It felt like someone was standing on my neck, not the most comfortable thing in the world, but I told myself this was necessary to get at the root of these thyroid issues.  He aspirated the gland three times in an effort to collect cells to be sent off to pathology for testing.  I left the examination room with a little gauze over my neck and was on my merry way.

A week later, I found the answer to the origin of my symptoms I’d been dealing with over the past few months.  My thyroid hormone levels were indeed elevated, although not drastically elevated, the levels were not within the normal range.  Due to some hyperactive (hot) nodules on my thyroid overproducing hormone,  my body’s processes went into overdrive.  This in turn sped up my metabolism, causing the rapid weight loss, despite no change in appetite.  This also explained my heat intolerance, trouble sleeping, nervousness, tremors, heart palpitations and transient tachycardic episodes.  All in all, not fun.

On a follow up visit to my primary care physician, she advised me to eat more foods containing Iodine, so as to prevent a goiter from developing.  An idea rang in my head, Sushi!  Sushi was indeed a food that had plenty of Iodine thanks to it being raw fish, with the exception of Tempura. I also had to salt more of  my foods, which was something I never practiced a lot of before in my cooking, salt equaled bloat and hypertension to me, so I steered clear of salting my food.  But it appeared now, for once, I’d actually have to salt my food, for my own good.

I was prescribed some beta-blockers to slow down my tachycardia and tremors. It helped to calm the symptoms but didn’t make them cease. On my last thyroid ultrasound, the doctor found the majority of the nodules had done a spontaneous disappearing act.  As the nodules disappeared so did many of my symptoms.  I truly do not wish thyroid complications on anyone, whether its a hyperthyroid or hypothyroid, both conditions are physically and mentally crippling.  Especially in women, many thyroid conditions are often misdiagnosed as premenstrual disorders due to the heat intolerance, irritability and mood swings that sometimes accompany the illness.  If there’s one thing I learned from my nearly 1.5 year battle of understanding that pesky little gland inside my neck, it’s to pay attention to it and not underestimate it’s potential destruction power.  Also, do your research.  I researched a lot online, reading medical articles and people’s personal accounts of  their thyroid abnormalities.  Many people automatically assume the doctor is always right.  Not so.  Doctors are people too;  they make mistakes.  Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion either, try two different endocrine specialists and see what answer they give you, it may surprise you. All in all, pay attention to your body, it’s an amazingly manufactured machine.