Much easier to identify is hyperthyroidism (Graves' disease is a common type), in which the thyroid unleashes a flood of excess hormone. This can shock your body into sudden weight loss, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, or bouts of diarrhea. Sufferers can feel constantly wired, warm, and shaky, as if they're hooked up to an IV filled with espresso. Similar to the warning signs of hypothyroidism, the symptoms of hyperthyroidism can become worse or more persistent over time--but both conditions are highly treatable with prescription meds.
The best way to safeguard your energy center is to catch a problem early. If you suspect an issue, ask your M.D. about a simple blood screen called a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test that can detect a gland gone haywire. Just know that while the test itself is safe, there's controversy around who should be given one: As awareness of thyroid disease rises, young women are flocking to their physicians for TSH tests, even if they have no symptoms (in other words, just in case). As a result, some doctors simply check every female patient; others believe that's overkill. "The problem with routine screening is that a lot of women may be borderline hypothyroid, and though they have no symptoms, their doctors put them on unnecessary medicine that could eventually result in hyperthyroidism," says Garber. On the other hand, untreated thyroid disorders can lead to infertility, chronic depression, cardiac ills, or high cholesterol. The bottom line: If you're showing warning signs and your doctor blows off your test request, get a second opinion or see an endocrinologist.
Thyroid disorders can lead to infertility, chronic depression, cardiac ills, or high cholesterol.
If you have hypothyroidism, your physician will likely prescribe a daily dose of a synthetic thyroid hormone called levothyroxine and do follow-up tests every six weeks for the first six months to make sure the dosage is right, says endocrinologist Eric Epstein, M.D., of Montefiore Medical Specialists in Scarsdale, New York. For hyperthyroidism, treatment may involve a daily drug (such as tapazole) that slows down your overactive gland. In most cases, thyroid meds are very effective, though the ideal, of course, is to ward off the issue in the first place.
You can't do much about the genetic and autoimmune risk factors, but you can protect your neck by making sure you get enough iodine, which has been closely linked to thyroid hormone production. The element is typically added to salt and some breads, but as many women move toward gluten-free, low-sodium diets, they may end up iodine deficient, says Garber. He recommends taking a daily multivitamin that contains 150 micrograms of iodine (220 micrograms if you're pregnant; 290 micrograms if you're breastfeeding). Oh, and quit the cigarettes: Chemicals in the smoke may increase the risk of the Graves' disease form of hyperthyroidism.
If you're diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, know that you can soon get your life back on track. Just ask Kristin, now 37. After working out the right daily dose of levothyroxine, she's been symptom-free for more than a decade. "I no longer walk around feeling zonked out all the time," she says. "My weight is under control, and I was able to get pregnant twice. Life is good!"
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