The Broken Furnace: A Thyroid Story
Making the connection between hypothyroidism and diabetes.
Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!
January 2011 — While the furnace spewed out ninety-degree heat in my in-laws' basement that afternoon, I curled up in a ball under a blanket and a comforter. The excessive warmth took a detour around my body and could have made it impossible to catch a short nap before Christmas dinner. That is, except for the mounting fatigue of the past several weeks sending me off into a deep sleep for much longer than intended.
This illness did not require a thermometer, nor was it contagious. These symptoms, along with amenorrhea and the inability to lose weight, all made sense a couple weeks later upon my diagnosis with hypothyroidism.
January is Thyroid Awareness Month, which covers all of the possible thyroid conditions. I decided to share what I learned in the six years since being diagnosed with hypothyroidism, and its connection to diabetes.
More common in women than men, most cases of hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, turn out to be an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Due to the connection between autoimmune conditions, those with type 1 diabetes are at increased risk of Hashimoto's or a hyperthyroid (or overactive thyroid) condition called Graves' disease.
To compare the two, I go back to the broken furnace. A symptom of hypothyroidism, as I indicated above, is intolerance of cold. Even with a furnace spewing out summer temperatures, I could not get warm. Had I actually been experiencing hyperthyroidism, I would have been sweating excessively with a dry mouth, more than the rest of those joining my in-laws that Christmas, as intolerance to heat is one of its symptoms.
Even though type 2 diabetes is not autoimmune, there is also a connection between it and hypothyroidism. Weight gain and then the inability to lose that weight prior to my hypothyroid diagnosis were compounded by the fatigue I experienced. Exercising seemed far out of the question when I could barely function on 12 hours of sleep or more. An existing genetic risk of type 2 diabetes and the excess weight I carried added up to a diabetes diagnosis just weeks after the hypothyroidism diagnosis.
In the years of diabetes blogging and other online advocacy efforts, I have heard the same story again and again from those diagnosed with hypothyroidism at the same time as type 2 diabetes.
Compared to the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes that soon followed, treating hypothyroidism proved to be easy: One small pill every morning, an hour before breakfast, and periodic blood testing to check TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels. Within weeks, I began to lose weight, and within months, I began to menstruate on a regular basis again.
Some cases of hypothyroidism turn out to be more complicated, requiring advanced testing of other thyroid hormones to tweak treatment and medication doses. Thankfully, this has not been the case for me.
These days, if any of my friends complain of fatigue, inability to lose weight, intolerance to cold, and/or irregular menstruation, I urge them to have their thyroid checked. Sometimes I may sound like I repeat myself, though I am just looking out for others before an errant thyroid negatively impacts their health in other ways.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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