"I was exhausted," says Jane Johnson Wall, 45, a therapist from Cranston, R.I. "I could barely make it through the day without taking a nap. I fell asleep mid-conversation at night. I was always cold. And I was gaining weight -- maybe 25 pounds -- though I was going to the gym."
Thyroid diseases -- either hyperthyroidism, when the gland releases more hormone than you need, or hypothyroidism, when it makes less -- are quite common, particularly in women, says Lewis Blevins Jr., MD, an endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco. In fact, 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid disorder in their lifetime, according to the American Thyroid Association.
Take your medication. "That's the most important thing Blevins says. Though hypothyroidism can't be cured, lab-made hormones can control it. You'll likely take the drug for life.
"Follow up with your doctor to make sure your medication is right," Blevins says. "Thyroid hormone is like Goldilocks. Too little is not good. Too much is not good. It has to be just right." Also, "if you have a new disease or start new medications, your dose requirements may change," he says. That's why you should see your doctor regularly, particularly if something about your health changes.
Exercise can help you shed pounds and boost energy once your thyroid hormone levels are regulated.
How much exercise is enough? "Let your body be your guide, and always try to do more the next day," Blevins says. "For some people that means going to the gym and starting with 10 minutes [of cardio] and building up from there. For others it may mean walking a mile and working up to 2 or 3 miles daily."
Watch your supplements. "If you take iron or calcium [supplements], you have to take those separately" from your thyroid medication, Blevins says. That's because calcium and iron can bind to the lab-made hormone and prevent your body from absorbing it, he says.
As for Wall, once she was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, the most common cause of hypothyroidism, "getting the right thyroid medication made a big difference" in her energy levels, she says.
With her thyroid back on track, she lost 15 pounds and felt better. 'I'm as exhausted as any other 45-year-old," she says. "But it's not sustained, continual exhaustion."
Ask Your Doctor
1. How often should I have my thyroid hormone levels checked?
2. How will changes in my health affect my thyroid medication?
3. Should I avoid certain foods or supplements?
4. Can I take a natural thyroid hormone?
5. Can natural treatments like iodine improve my thyroid function?
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