From Hyperthyroidism to Hypothyroidism: Radioactive Iodine Thyroid Obliteration

It has been one year since I had my thyroid gland obliterated through radioactive iodine treatment.  I have a 10-year plus story with thyroid issues, going from severely hyper to now, hypo.  The effects on the mind and body through either of these conditions are enormous and all too often, minimized.  This is my story that hopefully will inform or confirm yours, enabling you to come into a more peaceful state of health.

What Exactly is a Thyroid? 

Your thyroid is a buterfly-shaped gland located on the base of your neck.  It releases important hormones enabling all your organs to work well. These hormones control how your body uses food for energy.  They affect your metabolism rate, which means how fast or slow your brain, heart, muscles, liver, and other parts of your body work.  Breathing, heart rate, the nervous system, muscle strength, cholesterol levels, body temperature and menstrual cycles are all affected by the state of this wonderous little 2-inch gland.  It is too important to be ignored.

Secondary Infertility Marked the Beginning 

After the traumatic, but miraculous birth of our first son, my husband and I had spoken of our desire to space our children out two years apart.  Three years later, we still had not conceived, for no apparent physical reason.  Our family doctor wisely suggested I might have thyroid issues and ordered a blood test.  Sure enough, the results indicated hyperthyroidism.  I was referred to an endocrinologist who reviewed my blood work and did a brief exam.  He discovered several nodules growing on my thyroid gland causing it to produce more thyroid hormone than necessary.  The reason for these growths could never be found (for me or the general population who experience the same).  He prescribed methamazole, which I took daily for the next ten years.  A year later I became pregnant with our second, and just as miraculous, son.

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My Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

I can see in retrospect the ways in which hyperthyroidism dictated my lifestyle, even while on medication.  My blood levels indicated I was balanced, but my symptoms remained to some extent and even increased at times:

  • Inability to gain weight
  • Drivenness (internal, incessant motor) 
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Pounding heart
  • Irritable bowels
  • Shakiness
  • Night sweats
  • Obvious growth on my thyroid gland, visibly seen on my throat

I attempted to alleviate my symptoms through essential oils (lemongrass and frankensence nightly, over the course of a year), eating a handful of almonds daily and a variety of supplements.  These were successful in seasons, especially when I was able to remain consistent.  However, the growth of the nodules continued.

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Medical Testing Performed Over Ten Years

Every six months or less, I normally had blood work done to monitor my TSH, T3 and T4 levels.  I learned through my own research how relative these levels can be to each person, yet how standard the medical field interprets the results.  Unfortunately, when one has suffered with the above symptoms for years, a base point of what feels good and “normal” is often lost.  It took my husband and close friends to often let me know that what I was experiencing was not optimal.

Yearly, I also had ultrasounds to determine if the nodules were “hot” or “cold”.  A couple of times I also had a painful, in-office needle biopsy done to determine if the nodules had turned cancerous.  Thankfully, my results were always negative.

After the birth of our third child in 2009, the concern was especially high.  Thus, I had to take a small dose of radioactive iodine to “color” the nodules for an ultrasound.  As a result, my breast milk dried up and I was only able to nurse my daughter for three months.  At the time, I felt I had no other choice.  With three children under age ten, homeschooling and my husband out of work, my energy and motivation to research was low.  It is important options and education are offered to young mothers in an accessible way in order that they may advocate for their own well-being. Too often medical professionals standardize  treatment and offer only one possibility, when there may be other options of care.  

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The Decision to Take the Radioactive Route

Last winter, after several visits to an endocrinologist, my husband and I for the first time seriously considered the option of obliterating my thyroid gland through radioactive iodine treatment.  This option had been proposed through the years but we were leery of going outside of more holistic health methods and concerned it would affect my fertility (which it can).  Now, we knew we were done having children and I was approaching age 40.  The doctor informed me that long term hyperthyroidism would have an increased effect on my heart, my bones and possible enlargement of my liver.  My personal research confirmed this.  We did not feel these factors were something that could continue to be disregarded.  The option of surgery seemed invasive, more costly and came with risks since my growing nodules were close to my vocal chords.  Besides, we now lived outside of the United States and I did not wish to walk that road without the comfort of medical care in my native tongue.

We talked, researched and prayed almost daily about this decision.  Finally, it simply became clear to us that this was the only course of action.  It is good when each spouse views the other’s body just as precious as their own and shares in such conclusions.   Sometimes too, healing comes through medical intervention and we believed it would be through this treatment that the nodules would finally be gone.

The cost here in Mexico of this treatment is considerably lower than in the states, so this worked to our advantage.  A date to swallow the liquid was chosen and I was given instructions on how to prep my body: get off methamazole for two weeks before, avoid all salt/iodine for this amount of time and fast the day of.

When the day arrived, I drove myself to the small hole-in-the-wall doctor’s office.  The vial had been flown in from Canada to Mexico City and driven in an armored truck from Mexico City to this office.  The cost?  Almost $1,000 USD for a small glass of clear liquid!  I carried a note with me in Spanish to advise anyone who may stop me on my drive home to stay back, for I was now radioactive!  After a brief conversation with the doctor I swallowed the solution and was on my way.

When I arrived home, my family could not physically greet me, instead was the blaring music to “Radioactive”:).  I holed up in our bedroom for 48 hours.  My laundry was put into garbage bags and washed separately.  My food was left outside the door on disposable plates, cups and utensils.  I drank water hourly to help flush out my body.  I stayed within 10 feet of my family for the next ten days and cooked food with gloves and a mask.  My husband slept on the couch and used a separate bathroom.  At the end of this time, it was a great celebration to be able to hug again and my children rushed upon me!  I washed all our sheets and disinfected the bathroom.

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My Health the Year Following the Treatment

I experienced no symptoms directly related to swallowing the liquid insofar as a metallic taste, nausea or any type of sickness.  I felt completely normal and immediately got back to my daily life.  It was about six weeks later that my body began to react.  My anxiety was high and I was barely making it through the day without shakiness and needing to sleep.  I felt depressed and I was gaining weight.  My hair was falling out in the shower and in my brush in noticeable increase.  I could not concentrate and was experiencing a weird dizzy sensation in my head.  Was it better to have never done this treatment, I wondered?  I almost preferred being hyper to this!  Remember, medical journals do state that it takes a full year for all of the RAI to get out of one’s system. 

I had the six week blood work done and revisited the endocrinologist.  I know now he was wrong to have me wait that long and let my levels dip to a dangerous level. He put me on  Karot, the Mexican non-genaric brand of Synthroid.  This can be purchased at local pharmacies without a prescription for a low cost.  I began to perk up a bit and again, as a mother, just had to keep going.  By the end of the summer and start of fall, I literally thought I was dying, I was so weak.  Knowing what I know now, I look back on my bloodwork from that time and am amazed I did not end up in the hospital!  Apparently, it had been lost in translation that I was supposed to be gradually upping my dosage.

By early winter when I could start to mentally process again, I began reading extensively on websites such as Hypothyroid Mom . I learned how to interpret my blood work and note how I was feeling and what was “normal”.  The more natural form of thyroid hormone replacement (brands such as Armour) that also incorporates the T3 (the body cannot produce this on its own, it must convert it from T4) is not available here and only available in the states with a prescription.

Noting that my menstural cycles had been off since the treatment (happening two weeks apart, then absent, then heavy) I had my ferritin levels checked.  It is important to monitor not only iron levels, but also Vitamin D and ferritin levels in thyroid patients.  Ferritin is a protein found inside cells that stores iron so your body can use it later. A ferritin test indirectly measures the amount of iron in your blood.  Low levels affect hair loss!   To combat my low levels until they stabilized, I chose to supplement with buffalo liver capsules and be conscious to eat protein-rich foods which I could digest easily.  I also took selenium to boost my immune systems and aide in the T4 to T3 conversion.

When getting your thyroid levels checked, be sure to order a FULL thyroid panel.  This includes:

  • TSH
  • Free T4
  • Free T3
  • Reverse T3
  • Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies
  • Thyroglobulin Antibodies

Most doctors will only check the TSH, T4 and T3 levels.  Not the “free” T4 and T3.  Without these, you have no way of knowing if your body is adequately converting the T4 into T3 and even if your levels are in the “normal” range, you will still experience symptoms (as in my case).  You must be your own advocate!

* Here in Mexico, I am able to only get the TSH, T3 and T4 along with the “libres”.  They have been adequate this far.

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The above chart is the best “range” I have discovered. For a more detailed description, go here.

This is also helpful:

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Living without a Working Thyroid and with Hypothyroidism

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Just as I experienced symptoms being hyper, now I had the same with hypo:

  • Dry, coarse and falling out hair.
  • Lethargy
  • Extreme sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Mental clarity/memory “skips”
  • Heavier menstural periods
  • Weight gain/puffiness
  • Dryer skin
  • Bouts of depression
  • Joint paint (knees in particular)

Don’t Accept Living with the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism 

I believe that if the thyroid panel levels are balanced appropriately and individually, one should not have to live with any of the symptoms of either hyper (too much thyroid) or hypo (too little thyroid hormone).

Last week I had another blood panel done and a follow-up visit with my endocrinologist.  Just as I suspected, he declared that all my levels were in the “normal” range.  I saw it differently and pushed back (something that must be done firmly, but delicatley in this culture).  I insisted that I was not symptom-free.  I request that he prescribe a medication I had researched and knew was available here in Mexico that not only had T4, but incorporated  T3.  He relented and gave me a prescription.  The name of this medication (non-generic) is Novotiral and it is also economical.

After almost a week, I think I can already feel a change; increased energy and less constipation. I have learned the hard way that an increase in medication takes 6 full weeks for the body to register and feel.  Here is a simple explanation as to the reason.  I have also learned that even a 20-25 mg. can make a huge difference in feeling good and in feeling bad.

With my new condition of living without a thyroid, I have incorporated the following in my daily, holistic self-care:

  • Omega-3 AND Omega-6 fatty oils are an important supplement for hair loss, heart, brain and joints. These two are big necessities for our bodies! Since I don’t like fish, taking this mercury free option is helpful.  I also take one evening primrose oil capsule.  It is important these are taken in the evening, before bed for maximum effect.  I have also found that if I do not take the Omega-6 EPO with an Omega-3, I my skin gets oily and breaks out.  The body needs the correct balance of the two oils.   (I’ve read that that the more omega-3 you consume, the less omega-6 will be available to the tissues to produce inflammation. Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, while omega-3 is neutral. A diet with a lot of omega-6 and not much omega-3 will increase inflammation which is the base cause of so many autoimmune disorders–I feel best when these are balanced).
  • Surprisingly, low stomach acid and pepsin can influence hair loss.  Without these, protein cannot be properly digested.  Nails and hair are made up of protein.  Taking a Betaine HCI enzyme capsule before a larger meal containing protein helps digestion.  This has been more helpful to me than taking a popular biotin supplement.
  • To aide in lethargy, I take my green energy tea, twice daily.  I also force myself to exercise daily whether it be Pilates, walking, biking or lifting hand weights.
  • Collagen through gelatin is vitally important for the health of hair, nails, skin, bones, joints and a host of other health issues. As we age, the collagen in our bodies decreases.  Since getting pasture raised and grass-fed beef or poultry here to make good bone broth is next to impossible, I have ordered this product.  This one, since it contains pepsins, is easier for the body to assimilate.
  • The heavier mensural periods have been helped through addressing what I suspect has been estrogen dominance in my body made worse through becoming hypo.  By simply using this progesterone cream (except during my cycle) I have noticed a marked difference in heaviness, cramping, PMS and length.
  • I got my iodine, zinc, vitamin D, B12 and magnesium levels checked.  I found that I needed to supplement with magnesium.  Natural Calm has helped constipation and general ability to relax.
  • I have read that 90% of all physical problems have emotional roots.  I hope to explore that in future posts.
  • I find that using essential oils is a great relaxer and verifiable aide in reducing the symptoms of hypothyroidism.  Here is the ideal, daily recipe to apply 4 times a day and then down to 1 time a day, on the thyroid area of the neck.  Be sure to apply it neat (without a carrier oil):   10 drops frankincense, 10 drops myrrh, 10 drops lemongrass, 4 drops clove, and 4 drops peppermint.  This mixture can be made in a roller and simply rolled on.  It probably makes more sense to use this if you actually have a thyroid, but it must still be effective for healing in that area.
  • Diet is crucial as this info-graphic states below:

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I’ll keep posting about this topic as improvement and further enlightenment occur.  No doubt, this has not been an easy road.  The emotional and physical toil has been great. However, it lends an open opportunity and passion to live a more educated and empowered life as a women in regards to my health.

What we learn, we must share!  We cannot allow things like thyroid issues to have the last word!

Be blessed and may your soul prosper, even as your health.

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