Exhausted 24/7? Get a Thyroid Test.

The first step to caring for the tiny but crucial gland that can rob you of your vitality

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The Thyroid gland's role in metabolism and energy.

Exhaustion! That’s how it started for me. I was constantly running around like a chicken with my head cut off, always exhausted. But, still, I never stopped. I never slowed down. I pushed myself relentlessly. And then, one day, I realized that I hadn’t had my period for almost five months. From May to September, I’d had nothing. After the freaked-out run to the pharmacy to buy a pregnancy test (which was negative, thank heavens), I sat stumped and tired and tried to figure out what the heck was happening to me.

This sort of thing had happened before. When I was fifteen, I missed my period from December to May. At that point, I was so busy (high school, working at the ice cream store, and theater, choir, and all sorts of other extracurricular activities) that I didn’t notice (and wasn’t sexually active so pregnancy was a non-issue). The morning after the closing night of the last play of the year, I got my period and it plagued me for almost three weeks. Payback is a bitch. Then, there was a time or two when I got my period and it didn’t stop for two months. What delightful fun. These happened when I was in my twenties and had no insurance so I didn’t head to the doctor. Stupid? Yes. Reality? Sadly, also yes.

At the time, I had no idea these were some of the biggest indicators that my thyroid was desperately trying to tell me something. Some of the others: hair and nails get brittle, unexplained weight gain, fatigue, infertility, a puffy face, constipation, muscle weakness, loss of muscle tone, high cholesterol, hoarse voice, sensitivity to cold, painful, stiff joints, and depression (these and others are listed on the Mayo Clinic hypothyroid website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypothyroidism/ds00353/dsection=symptoms.)

It turns out that women are at the highest risk for thyroid issues (and something like 20-30 million people are wandering around, exhausted and undiagnosed) and one of the big signs that something is amiss is when your period stops, or it starts and never ends or it just becomes irregular. That and fatigue. Holy moly: the fatigue! I would find myself more exhausted when I awoke than I had been the night before. It never ended. There simply was never a time when I felt energetic and strong. I was always desperately trying to catch up, like I’d just finished sprinting nine-tenths of a mile, had the last tenth to go, and if I didn’t get there, everything would collapse around me. I would force myself out of bed and push myself or throw myself into my daily activities because if I didn’t, I would just drop. Literally.

Finally, in 1996 (at thirty) I found time to stop and do some research. Potential thyroid issues? WTH? Quickly, I made an appointment with an endocrinologist. My Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) test came back 14. TSH is what they test for first, once they’ve heard your list of symptoms. Here’s the thing about TSH. The result is counterintuitive. The pituitary releases TSH when the thyroid isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone (T4). TSH prods the thyroid to do its job. So, if there’s a lot of it in your system, it means that the thyroid is sluggish for some reason. (Normal ranges and what they mean, next time.)

Here’s the thing about Endocrinologists. They treat the energy system of your body. The endocrine system governs the thyroid, the adrenals, the pituitary, and all the other glands that have responsibility for our energy and metabolism. (For a full write-up of that, see: http://www.emedicinehealth.com/anatomy_of_the_endocrine_system/article_em.htm.) So, the importance of taking care of those glands cannot be overstressed unless you want to be forced to lie in bed without the energy to raise your head.

I knew what was wrong and now I had decisions to make. Next time, we’ll talk about normal ranges, and what happened to me next.

Do you find yourself exhausted, depressed, stressed, achy, and feel like you are pushing yourself just to get through a normal day on a daily basis? Can you relate to any of these symptoms and issues? What’s your story?

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