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Living Well With Thyroid Disease: Some Tips

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Updated April 22, 2014

Living Well With Thyroid Disease: Some Tips

Thyroid patients have the power to live well.

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The writer Norman Cousins said, "Drugs are not always necessary, but belief in recovery always is." As a thyroid patient, your belief, and your plan for getting well and staying well, are always going to be a crucial part of your overall health.

For most of us, there's no one magic pill that ensures that we can live well with thyroid disease. Rather, the secret is an approach that blends both science and the art of living well.

It's always important to have the right doctor, and get on the right treatments. This is essential. The science of living well also relies on resolving any other hormonal or chemical imbalances and health issues that might get in the way. For this, a productive partnership with caring, smart healthcare practitioners will take you a long way.

As far as the art of living well, that opens up a whole additional world of opportunities. You can explore alternative therapies and integrate them into your overall treatment, learn to develop a positive attitude, choose foods to nourish mind and body, or learn how to empower yourself to move forward on your own behalf.

Ultimately, success begins with a fundamental belief in your own recovery. Yes, thyroid issues may not be easy to completely resolve, and, yes, many doctors may not invest much energy in helping you meet the challenges the problem . . . but leave that behind. You must have faith and believe that you can recover and go on to live well.

Let's take a look at some of the various approaches to help you live well.

1. FIND THE RIGHT THYROID TREATMENT

Whether you have Graves' disease and are considering the merits of antithyroid drugs, radioactive iodine (RAI), and surgery, or you're hypothyroid, and comparing levothyroxine, T4/T3 therapy, and natural thyroid treatments, it's critical to work towards finding the right treatment. Antithyroid drugs may not control your hyperthyroidism, or cause side effects, while RAI or surgery would resolve things more easily. Finding the right treatment or drug -- at the right dosage -- is not an automatic process for everyone, and may require some experimenting and patience. Since my own hypothyroidism diagnosis in 1995, I've been on various brands of levothyroxine, added in synthetic T3, and also taken natural thyroid drugs. My doctor and I didn't need any medical textbook or double-blind study to tell us that I do better on one thyroid drugs or another, but it's also a trial and error process. You may have to go though this process periodically as well, but it's worth it to ensure you're getting the right medicine and dosage you need.

2. FIND A GREAT DOCTOR (AND GET RID OF A BAD ONE)

The right doctor is an important—almost essential—part of living well. You probably can live well despite your doctor, if you truly have no option but to work with an HMO doctor you're stuck with, or the only endocrinologist within 500 miles. When you have a choice, however, one of the most important things you can do is find a great doctor and leave the bad ones behind. Personally, I have to say that I am extremely lucky, in that I have a wonderful doctor who is my partner in the search for wellness. Some resources to help:

3. EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT THYROID DISEASE AND HEALTH

I can't emphasize enough how important it is for you to really understand thyroid disease. So often, people contact me, complaining that they don't feel well and ask "What should I do?" When I ask them what their TSH level is, they say "What level? I don't know about this. I just want to feel well." If you don't feel well, you simply can't afford to say "I don't know—or want to know—about this." You must take it upon yourself to understand what's going on, so you can ask the right questions, discuss options with your doctor, and find another doctor if yours doesn't make sense.

Who knows what developments may be announced tomorrow regarding thyroid disease? And who knows when—or even if—your doctor will hear about those developments? Make sure you are a subscriber to my email thyroid newsletter, and a fan of my About.com Thyroid Facebook page -- these resources will help ensure that you are informed of the latest developments.

4: HELP EDUCATE OTHERS

One important thing everyone with thyroid disease can do is help educate others and correct common misconceptions about the condition. For example, few people know much about hypothyroidism, beyond unfairly characterizing it as "a disease that makes middle-aged women fat." This unfair, inaccurate characterization is part of the reason the disease is so often overlooked and underdiagnosed by doctors, and why there is so little interest in finding better treatments and cures. Part of living well is making sure that others understand and doing your part to raise awareness.

Sometimes, education starts at home. The most appalling letter I've ever received was from the husband of a woman just diagnosed with hypothyroidism. This man was clearly in the dark about the condition:

Is there really such a thing as a thyroid disease? Is it contagious? The women on my wife's side of the family all seem to have it. Is it hereditary? Does my wife's lack of ambition and motivation have anything to do with it . . . or is it simply the result of this "so called" disease? Will she be more ambitious or self-motivated if she takes Synthroid?
Honestly, I felt for his wife. Hypothyroidism seemed the least of her problems. But after sending him extensive information about hypothyroidism, he actually wrote back to say that he was trying to be more patient and understanding with his wife. So perhaps even he was capable of being "educated!"

When you encounter lack of understanding or misconceptions, take the time to explain the situation. You may even want to start your own local thyroid support group, to help other thyroid patients.

5. BE BOTH PATIENT AND PERSISTENT

"Patient" is a confusing word. The word patient derives from a Latin verb, which means "to suffer." According to the dictionary, patient, as an adjective, means putting up with pain or provocation without complaint. The noun refers to an individual awaiting or under medical care and treatment, or "one that is acted upon." I'm not going to suggest that you should be a "patient patient," putting up with pain without complaint while you are "acted upon" by doctors! Rather, I prefer another definition: "remaining steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity."

Even with the best therapies or the right drug, you can't expect miracles overnight, so patience is essential at all stages of treatment. But patience doesn't mean inaction. One of the hardest aspects of a chronic condition like hypothyroidism is the need to be both patient and persistent at the same time. You can't give up trying to find the right answers, the right doctor, or the right treatment.

6: SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PERSONAL SUPPORT

One aspect of living well with any chronic disease is surrounding yourself with supportive people. Spouses, family members, friends, children, coworkers, support group members—all can play a part in helping to encourage your return to good health. The last thing you need is someone who doesn't believe you are ill, makes fun of you, or doesn't cut you some slack when you're not feeling well.

Some of the best spouses and friends are those who take the time to understand thyroid disease, so they can understand you. Encourage your friend, partner or spouse to go to the doctor with you, to ask questions, and find out what you are going through. It will make the difficult times more understandable.

There are many support groups online, and some in person, that can also help. But do be careful that you aren't part of a support group that focuses solely on symptoms, to the exclusion of solutions. You don't want a group that has a particular agenda, i.e., to purchase particular supplements, or a group that has bias against or rule preventing discussion of all of your options. There are, for example, some support groups online where moderators discourage or even prevent discussion of natural and alternative treatments. Be sure to check out groups before joining.

One resource that can help? Print out An Open Letter to the Family and Friends of Thyroid Patients and share with loved ones.

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