By Mary Ellen Morrison
January is Thyroid Awareness Month and in this blog post, guest blogger Mary Ellen Morrison shares her story of struggling to get a diagnosis when she began to show signs of a thyroid condition. According to the American Thyroid Association, up to 20 million Americans have a thyroid condition and up to 60 percent of them don’t know it.
My thyroid dysfunction took three and a half years of misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis to finally get to a correct diagnosis. Prior to the dysfunction, I was exercising and eating a healthy diet. I began noticing I was gaining weight and becoming fatigued easily. Within three months I had gained 20 pounds!
I made an appointment with my primary care physician and my OB/GYN and basic bloodwork was ordered. The results were normal, including the thyroid test (TSH or thyroid-stimulating hormone). It’s interesting to note that this is not unusual. I’ve since learned that thyroid dysfunction is one of the hardest conditions to diagnosis. Many times, the typical thyroid tests that are ordered will come back within the normal range. I’ve learned that a blood test testing the T3 and T4 level is the most accurate test. This was never done in my case. However, through the basic bloodwork, they found that my blood pressure was high, so I was prescribed and began taking blood pressure medicine.
The final diagnosis was that I was dealing with menopausal issues.
I continued to get worse over the next three years, going to doctors and receiving the same menopausal diagnosis. I developed a cough, which developed into a gag and vomiting experience. I would begin coughing, get a tingling sensation on the right side of my throat, and I would have approximately 60 seconds to get to a bathroom before I would gag severely and vomit. These episodes would happen five to eight times a day and last anywhere from two to 10 minutes. I gradually began losing my voice, until I barely had a voice. After going back to my primary care physician, I received the following diagnoses: acid reflux, bronchitis, cryptic tonsillitis, and a referral to a pulmonologist.
After three more months, by the grace of God, I stopped into my primary care physician’s office and met with the physician assistant for the first time. I had kept a medical journal with my issues, and it helped to recount everything that I had experienced along with the numerous doctor visits, exams, and tests performed. She read it thoroughly, and took the time to listen to everything that I had experienced and the struggles I was facing on a daily basis. After hearing my symptoms and doing a thorough exam, she decided to order an ultrasound of my thyroid. The results finally gave me my correct diagnosis: thyroid nodules. One nodule was actually the cause of my gag/vomit reflex. After a CAT Scan and nuclear testing, I was given an appointment with a surgeon. Within six weeks, my thyroid was removed.
The surgery went well, with no complications. Slowly, my life returned to normal. I regained my voice. I no longer had the gagging and vomiting episodes. However, because of the damage my throat endured, I never regained the voice strength I had prior to the coughing episodes. My energy level returned after recuperating from surgery, and I finally felt like myself again. As a result of the surgery, I will take thyroid medication for the remainder of my life, being tested once a year to check my medication levels.
Mary Ellen Morrison is a retired elementary school Media Specialist who lives in Fairmont, West Virginia. She is a volunteer with Read Aloud West Virginia, where she reads with several elementary classrooms each week to promote reading and share her love of books. She enjoys reading, trying out new recipes, and finding new adventures to take with her children and grandchildren.
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