Many women I know have had a health concern deemed normal or excused as unsolvable. Mirroring these frustrating experiences, one in five women report that a health care provider has dismissed their concerns.
In my case, my hypothyroidism went undiagnosed for years. Perpetual exhaustion, joint and muscular pain, discomfort, and anxiety were discounted as potentially interrelated symptoms. I bounced from specialist to specialist, attempting to treat individual symptoms but never getting to the root cause.
While it is an immense privilege to have the time and resources to advocate for your health, I encourage you to listen to that instinct until you receive a correct diagnosis. Anyone who is acutely aware that something is out of balance but can't quite get to the bottom of it: this is for you.
In 2018, unmanageable fatigue crept in, to the point of being unable to get out of bed some days. After weeks of traveling and a recent breakup, I chalked it to exhaustion. But two years and several health care professionals later, the symptoms became constant rather than intermittent.
In July 2020, life slowed down to a glacial early pandemic pace after I moved back in with my family. With exponentially more time on my hands and no office to commute to several hours a day, it was the ideal time to double down and dig into what was happening to my body. It took almost three years to find a doctor who finally diagnosed me with hypothyroidism.
A winning combination of bone-tired exhaustion, joint pain, and increasingly unmanageable anxiety levels led me to consult a functional medicine practitioner. This decision remains the single best decision I've made for my overall well-being.
After assessing thyroid labs run by my former OBGYN, my doctor was shocked that my TSH levels were not previously flagged as borderline abnormal. It's no wonder I felt like a Sleeping Beauty-esque nap was the level of rest my body needed. After a short attempt at a holistic approach, thyroid medication and a new nutrition regimen were prescribed, and immediate relief set in. Increased mental clarity, more manageable emotions, and no longer feeling like I got hit by a bus allowed me to exist functionally for the first time in years.
From practical to emotional, there are a few key learnings I want to share with anyone on a journey to manage their thyroid health.
5 things I wish I knew before my thyroid diagnosis
Make thyroid testing a habit
According to the American Thyroid Association, with over 12% of the US population developing a thyroid condition in their lifetime, making thyroid testing a part of your yearly regimen is a simple and valuable tool.
Be sure to test beyond thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Use an at-home thyroid test to also look at your free T3, free T4, TPO antibodies, reverse T3, and vitamin D levels to get a holistic view of your thyroid health.
My first thyroid blood test only measured TSH and showed a slight imbalance. If I had tested persistently and asked for a full thyroid panel, I would have identified the need for thyroid management sooner. Ask your primary care doctor, OBGYN, or Paloma Health to consistently track your thyroid levels.
Look into your family health history
Almost a year after getting an accurate diagnosis, I discovered that hypothyroidism runs in my family. It turns out that both my grandmother and uncle have taken thyroid medication for years. This medical history could have been incredibly valuable and helped me get ahead of the gnarlier symptoms. If available to you, I suggest connecting with your close relatives on any conditions that might be pertinent and flag them to your general practitioner.
Seek alternative medical perspectives
After consulting with a primary care physician, OBGYN and rheumatologist, I finally made my way to a functional medicine doctor who diagnosed me and helped me create a long-term treatment plan. I also turned to acupuncture and cupping to manage joint pain and fatigue.
Eventually, I made my way to Paloma Health after being unable to find a local thyroid specialist who could see me within six months and solidified my long-term approach to managing my thyroid health. Whether it's out-of-the-box approaches to optimizing your health or finding doctors who take a holistic view of your care, there are always alternatives to standard practice if you dig deep enough.
Perpetually fatigued? Get your thyroid checked
Bone tired exhaustion was my number one indicator of a problem with my thyroid gland. When I came back from traveling in 2018, it took me almost six weeks to recover. I couldn't get enough sleep. This pattern persisted on and off for years until I got my thyroid hormone levels into the normal range. At first, I thought I was pushing myself too hard, only to find that a few hours in the world and even less strenuous physical activity began to catch me. As the number one concern overlooked by my previous doctors, I am adamant that long bouts of exhaustion are not typical and should be taken seriously.
Trust your gut & advocate for yourself
You know your body better than anyone. If you believe something is off, continue to advocate for yourself until you get answers. For years my symptoms were chalked up to stress, only to discover that my thyroid imbalance perpetuated my inability to manage stress. Even though both doctors and people in my close circle were resigned, I wasn't willing to live in a haze of exhaustion and anxiety forever. Don't let anyone tell you your symptoms are imagined or need to be tolerated.
Whether you are new to managing your thyroid health or have been on this road for many years, I hope you find a way to navigate and thrive despite your thyroid diagnosis and symptoms.