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HEALTH MATTERS: For thyroid problems, get your neck checked

Nearly 59 million Americans have a thyroid problem, but most don’t even know where their thyroid is located or how to conduct a neck check to determine if there is a problem.

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists report that an estimated 15 million Americans have undiagnosed thyroid problems and one in eight women will develop thyroid problems in their lifetime.

The thyroid gland affects a person’s physical energy, temperature, weight and mood. There are various types of thyroid disease: Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s disease, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroid nodules, thyroiditis, goiter, and thyroid cancer.

Statistics gathered by the American Thyroid Association report that:

• More than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime.

• An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease.

• Up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.

• Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems.

• Most thyroid cancers respond to treatment, although a small percentage can be very aggressive.

• The causes of thyroid problems are largely unknown.

• Undiagnosed thyroid disease may put patients at risk for certain serious conditions.

• Pregnant women with undiagnosed or inadequately treated hypothyroidism have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, and severe developmental problems in their children.

• Most thyroid diseases are life-long conditions that can be managed with medical attention.

Three years ago, Janice Marrow-Wright began to have difficulty swallowing food.  She also suffered from: confusion/disorientation, diarrhea, fever, heart failure, an irregular heart beat, nausea and vomiting, a rapid heart rate, weakness, and fatigue.

After about a week of drinking soup through a straw, Marrow-Wright contacted her primary care doctor and was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist. Marrow-Wright’s specialist ordered a series of tests — blood work, iodine thyroid scan, and an MRI. She was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid.

Marrow-Wright was prescribed Methimazole to treat the problem. Unexpectedly, the symptoms continued while she was on the medication. She went back to the specialist with complaints.

“For several months, I was given various medications to determine what might work,” Marrow-Wright said. “However, my condition worsened.”

Do You Know The Difference

The International Thyroid Federation states that the treatment of hyperthyroidism is more complex and no single treatment can treat all patients. Case in point are the Marrow twins: Marrow-Wright’s twin sister Ja’neece Marrow started to have throat problems, but her road to treatment and recovery was different. Marrow-Wright has Medi-Cal and Marrow has VA medical benefits.

Hyperthyroidism tends to run in families. One year after Marrow-Wright was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, her twin sister experienced swelling, pain and throbbing on both sides of her throat and difficulty swallowing, which continued for about a month. Marrow thought she had a sore throat. Her symptoms were not identical to her twin sister and she was unaware of the need and purpose of the neck check.

Marrow was tested with an MRI and blood work. The results were hyperthyroidism like her sister. A VA physician prescribed Methimazole, which is designed to interfere with the thyroid gland’s ability to make its hormones, and scheduled her for check-ups every three months.

“In January 2015, I started to experience the same throat symptoms again,” Marrow said. “Within two weeks, I was seen by the same VA doctor at the Jerry L. Pettis Medical Center in Loma Linda.”

Marrow was an E-4 sergeant in the U.S. Air Force for three years and nine months with an honorable discharge in 1979.

After additional testing with ultrasound, x-rays and iodine scan, it was discovered that Marrow’s overactive thyroid gland had enlarged. Antenlol, a stronger medication was prescribed. Within a few months, she had severe side effects and by July 2015, the medication did not seem to keep her thyroid in check.

“I rapidly lost weight, had an irregular heartbeat, diarrhea, and nausea for about 120 days,” Marrow said. “By October, I could not swallow any longer.”

For three months, Marrow could only get her nutrition from liquids.

Because the VA serves millions of active and retired service men and women, Marrow could not be scheduled until December for her next step in treatment.

“Although my wait to get treatment was a little long; I am fortunate to be 100 percent covered by the VA Administration Healthcare,” Marrow said.

Little is known about why specific individuals get thyroid problems.   (Infographics courtesy of NaturalHealthZone.org)
Little is known about why specific individuals get thyroid problems.
(Infographics courtesy of NaturalHealthZone.org)

According to thyroid researchers and medical specialists, the treatment options are anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine radiation, surgery, a permanent cure for hyperthyroidism; and beta blockers.

In December 2015, Marrow opted for the radioactive iodine radiation therapy, which is a widely recommended permanent treatment of hyperthyroidism because it causes the thyroid to dissolve and be eliminated through body waste.

While Marrow was thyroid–free, able to enjoy solid food and have the energy to exercise daily, her sister Marrow-Wright had a different experience navigating the Medi-Cal system.

“From April to September 2015, my care was substandard to my sister’s VA care and it took longer to resolve my issues and several trips to the hospital,” Marrow-Wright said. “My overactive thyroid landed me in the hospital for two weeks and again on Dec. 22, 2015 — three days before our birthdays.”

Based on Marrow-Wright’s medical history as a two-time cervical cancer survivor, she was not advised to undergo the radiation therapy like her sister.  The options were slim. However, after a thorough review of her eating habits and sedentary lifestyle, Marrow-Wright was given a health coach and an exercise and nutrition plan.

“For daily thyroid health, I eat one serving of berries to strengthen my immune system, one serving of cruciferous vegetables — broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage — to decrease the amount of hormones my thyroid produces, salmon and eggs for the omega 3 and vitamin D, and three servings of dairy — cheese, yogurt or milk — to keep my bones strong,” Marrow-Wright said. “I keep my stress level to a minimum and get plenty of rest, which has contributed to my improved health.”

For the past seven months, the new food plan combined with medication and her sister’s suppport has Marrow-Wright back on track.  The twins have survived the thyroid storm of problems and continue to thrive.

For more resources and information about thyroid disease, contact the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons: http://www.endocrinesurgery.org/; American Thyroid Association: http://www.thyroid.org/; International Thyroid Federation: http://www.thyroid-fed.org/tfi-wp/; Light of Life Foundation: http://checkyourneck.com/; National Institute of Health/Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/thyroiddiseases.html and Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association: http://www.thyca.org/.

Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to healthmatters@wavepublication.com and look for her column in The Wave.