Treating a Thyroid Problem?
I was recently diagnosed with Graves' disease (hyperthyroidism) and my doctors have suggested removing my thyroid surgically. What are the potential complications?
Graves' disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and it puts your body on "fast forward." Everything is sped up, from heart rate to metabolism (causing weight loss). Other symptoms include nervousness, increased perspiration, heart palpitations, muscle weakness, trembling hands, skin changes, more frequent bowel movements, decreased menstrual flow, a goiter, and in some cases, eyes that protrude from their sockets. When thyroid hormone production slows (hypothyroidism), you get the opposite effect, a general slowing down of body processes.
Graves' disease is treated either by shrinking the thyroid with radioactive iodine or removing it entirely (thyroidectomy). Aside from the usual complications that come with every surgical procedure, thyroidectomies are safe. (A rare risk is damage to the parathyroid glands which regulate calcium metabolism.) After the thyroid is removed, the body can no longer produce necessary hormones, and you will have to take daily thyroid supplements for the rest of your life. The supplement most commonly recommended, Synthroid, contains only one form of thyroid hormone. I recommend another product, Thyrolar, which provides two hormones, T3 and T4. Once your body begins to get normal amounts of these hormones, your symptoms will disappear. After that, you'll need periodic blood tests to determine if your dosage is correct.
I'm often asked about natural remedies for thyroid disorders, but I don't know of any reliable substitute for allopathic treatments. I understand that in Germany, hyperthyroidism is sometimes treated with the herb bugleweed, but I have no first-hand experience with it and can't vouch for its effectiveness.
This disease is very treatable once it's diagnosed -- and I'm very glad to hear you were diagnosed so quickly. Thyroid problems are easily detected with a blood test, but many doctors overlook the symptoms. In fact, Olympic track and field legend Gail Devers recently testified before a Congressional committee on the prevalence of misdiagnosed thyroid problems. In her case, doctors thought her symptoms -- extreme fatigue, weight loss, hair loss -- were a result of stress and overtraining. They told her to take some time off. Of course, that didn't help. The disease progressed to the point where she nearly needed to have her feet amputated. Luckily, she was diagnosed with Graves' disease in time. Incidentally, Gail Devers went on to win her fourth and fifth Olympic gold medals after receiving radioactive iodine treatment and going on hormone therapy.