The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland helps regulate the body's metabolism in blood pressure, blood temperature, and heart rate. When your thyroid hormone production drops, your body processes slow down and change, affecting virtually every system in the body and causing frustrating and sometimes debilitating symptoms.
If a loved one has hypothyroidism, it can be challenging to understand their needs, especially since they often don't "look sick." Please know that the symptoms that they experience are genuine and can make fulfilling responsibilities and enjoying time with family and friends a challenge.
Ahead, three of the most common symptoms to help you understand what your loved one is going through with hypothyroidism.
Fatigue is whole-body tiredness not relieved by sleep
Fatigue is one of the symptoms that most impact someone with hypothyroidism. Fatigue is different than tiredness, which happens to everyone. Typically, we expect tiredness after rigorous activities or at the end of the day. Fatigue, on the other hand, is a lack of energy or whole-body tiredness that is not relieved by sleep. It may affect your loved one from normal daily function or quality of life. They may not be able to keep up with your pace or need to bow out of social engagements.
Know that your loved one most certainly wants to keep up with you or be there for more moments together. Their need to not feel exhausted overrides other desires. Trying to power through will likely leave them in worse shape, leaving them unable to be there to an even higher degree.
The good news? Hypothyroidism is easily treatable in almost everyone. Optimizing thyroid levels with thyroid hormone replacement medication is usually the first step in minimizing symptoms like fatigue. Remember, though, it may take some time to find the right medication and dosage for their body. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment.
Low thyroid hormone levels can affect mental health
There is a strong correlation between depression, anxiety, and thyroid disease, particularly thyroid disease caused by autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto's or Graves' disease. Since hypothyroidism usually develops slowly, and early symptoms may be nonspecific or minor, it's not surprising that doctors often overlook the diagnosis. Many signs of hypothyroidism like fatigue, brain fog, and joint or muscle pain, mimic the symptoms of depression, which sometimes leads to a misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis.
Depression, like fatigue, isn't all in a person's head — it's real. If you think your partner may be experiencing depression and hypothyroidism, encourage them to talk with their medical team. A qualified physician can use screening questionnaires, clinical observations, and conversations with a patient to determine whether medication could help treat depression.
Brain fog makes you feel hazy and disorganized
One of the most troubling and common symptoms of mild hypothyroidism (characterized by the American Thyroid Association by an increased TSH only) is brain fog. Your loved one with mild (or subclinical) hypothyroidism may experience "brain fog," which manifests as a feeling of haziness, inability to connect or concentrate, and difficulty remembering important information. Brain fog isn't a medical condition, but it does affect your loved one's ability to think clearly.
Alternatively, overt hypothyroidism (characterized by the American Thyroid Association by an increased TSH and decreased T4 level) may negatively affect several cognitive functions. These may include but are not limited to attention and concentration, memory, perceptual function, language, psychomotor function, and executive function. This troubling symptom is mostly reversible with levothyroxine treatment.
How to support your loved one
Understandably, you may feel overwhelmed by your loved one's hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's diagnosis. You may have a new normal, but it doesn't mean hypothyroidism has to dictate your lives.
Suggestions to support:
- Educate yourself on hypothyroidism. We recommend the Paloma Health blog, American Thyroid Association, or Thyroid Refresh.
- Gently ask your loved one what they need from you. Getting clarity about how you can best help them improves the experience for both of you.
- If your loved one is having a symptom flare-up, offer to pick up dinner or take over one of their chores!
- Schedule time to be active together. Try a walk or a yoga class. And remember the phrase, "Don't worry if plans need to change."
While there's no cure for hypothyroidism, your loved one can still live well with a thyroid condition by taking medication, eating well, sleeping well, and managing stress.