This is not something I would normally write about, but I think it is so important and revelatory that I feel compelled to share it with you. I also know, from talking to my doctor and friends and family, that most people are unaware of the relationship between thyroid disease and consequent high ‘bad’ cholesterol levels and resulting heart disease.
Let me start at the beginning. Last year I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease – an autoimmune disease of the thyroid, leading to hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid – which results in stopping the important hormone thyroxine from being produced. This disease, often hereditary in origin, produces a range of symptoms. There are a range of conditions and diseases associated with the thyroid – Hashimoto’s is one of the most common.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease
Hashimoto’s disease progresses very slowly over many years, so the symptoms may go unnoticed. The symptoms and signs vary depending on individual factors including the severity of the condition, but may include:
1. Unrelenting fatigue
2. Feeling the cold
4. Swollen face
5. Dry, coarsened skin
6. Dry hair that is prone to breakage, hair loss
changes, such as persistent hoarseness
8. Fluid retention (oedema)
9. Sudden weight gain that cannot be explained by dietary or lifestyle changes
10. High blood cholesterol
and tender joints, particularly in the hands, feet and knees
12. Cognitive changes, such as depression or forgetfulness
13. .Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goitre)
14. In women, heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia).
Sometimes Hashimoto’s disease does not cause any noticeable symptoms. The condition may be discovered during investigations for other, perhaps unrelated, medical problems.
How did I end up with this diagnosis? I was pretty well symptom free – apart from unrelenting fatigue, always feeling the cold and painful hands and joints (the rest of it I just put down to age and my usual battiness). Suddenly, I had a persistent pain in my head – which told me that my blood pressure might be unusually high and I could tell that my pulse rate was running high (I could hear it in my ears) – so off I went to the doctor. I did not know, at this stage, that having a high cholesterol reading was also a symptom of hypothyroidism.
I have had a high cholesterol reading for as long as I can remember (7.8) and have been nagged by various doctors to take statins. I was resistant to do this for various reasons, not least of which are the possible side effects which include muscle fatigue, pain and loss of mobility (from which I have seen my mother hospitalised and very ill). I also, in a previous life, worked for the pharmaceutical industry and know that’s what it is – an industry. I also did not have other risk factors WHICH IS WHAT YOU WILL HAVE TO ASSESS. I have a healthy diet, exercise regularly and am a healthy weight for my height and age – the only downside is a query that my mother has a ‘heart problem’.
Blood tests revealed that my thyroid was ‘stuffed’ – or, as my doctor said “it was like an out-of-control bushfire” and she was surprised that I was on two feet. Further tests revealed an inflamed thyroid with two fairly large nodules and the ‘c’ word was bandied around until biopsies discounted that. This GP was the first person who ever told me that my high cholesterol reading could be related to thyroid disease. I was prescribed thyroxine to supplement what my own thyroid was not making – this I will have to take forever – as prolonged thyroid disease usually results in it’s irreparable damage. She also said that I had probably had a malfunctioning thyroid for a very long time that had gone undetected because I was relatively symptom free.
The Happy Ending
After three months of taking thyroxine my thyroid levels are back to normal and more importantly my cholesterol reading is now a healthy 2.3. The Sword of Damocles has been lifted.
The Moral of this Story
On the way out of the my doctor’s surgery, while still trying to absorb this amazing news and marvelling at the bodies’ intricate complexities, I asked her. “So should everyone who has a high cholesterol reading get their thyroid checked ” and her reply “Of course”. Her complete advice of what your doctor should do when you go for a thyroid check is the following:
- A thorough family and medical history.
- Physical examination.
- Blood tests for T4, T3, and TSH and antibody levels.
I hope you find this useful and I am sorry that there are no pretty pictures to accompany this post – all I had was an ultrasound image of my nodulated thyroid and I didn’t think you’d want to see that! Good luck.