How thyroid disease can slow you down
Helen Casey's* hairdresser was horrified to see
clumps of her client's chestnut curls whisked away
down the drain of her shampoo sink. This hair loss
was anything but normal, and her stylist told her:
"Helen, you need to see a doctor."
Casey, 52, immediately visited her family doctor
who ordered a simple blood test to check her
thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. The
results were astounding.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck
located directly under the Adam's apple. It produces
hormones that help regulate the body's functions.
Jonathan Anolik, MD, chief of endocrinology at Virtua
Memorial Hospital, says it's like a thermostat for the
cells in your body.
"When the thyroid level gets too low, the pituitary
gland, located beneath the brain, releases TSH. This
tells the thyroid gland to release a hormone called thyroxine,"
says Dr. Anolik. "Thyroxine helps regulate the
body's metabolism and, when it's too low or too high,
it can lead to an under- or overactive thyroid."
An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, means
there is an insufficient level of thyroxine in the body. The
brain recognizes the problem and sends more and more
TSH to the thyroid to stimulate the release of thyroxine.
"When you develop hypothyroidism, you can equate
the elevated TSH to raising the thermostat in a house
with a broken heater," says Dr. Anolik. "That disconnect
decreases the body's metabolism and, eventually,
body functions come to a crawl resulting in visible
symptoms such as fatigue, feeling cold all the time,
constipation, dry skin, weight gain and, in Helen's case,
Unlike hyperthyroidism, which can lead to an elevated
heart rate, nervousness and weight loss, symptoms
of hypothyroidism can often be mistaken for
depression or menopause, or attributed to effects associated
with a chaotic schedule.
Casey didn't see the symptoms that were warning her
for months. "I was a new mom and working full-time,"
she says. "I was cold and tired all the time, but thought
these were normal side effects of my hectic lifestyle."
Usually straightforward to treat, Dr. Anolik prescribed
for Casey a chemically identical synthetic hormone called
levothyroxine that supplemented the low levels of thyroxine
her thyroid was having difficulty producing.
Today, thanks to her hairdresser's advice years ago,
Casey has a full, healthy head of hair, is no longer cold
all the time, and has the energy to maintain an active
lifestyle at work and at home.
*name has been changed to protect privacy
Meet the Physician
Jonathan Anolik, MD,
is chief of endocrinology
at Virtua Memorial. A graduate
of the Stritch Medical School of
Loyola University in Chicago, he
completed a residency at Beth
Israel Medical Center in New
York and an endocrinology fellowship
at George Washington
University Medical Center. Dr.
Anolik has an academic appointment at Jefferson Medical
College. He has been named "Best Doc" in numerous
magazines throughout the region.