Life in Balance: A Classic Hypothyroidism Patient Regains Her Health

By: 
Mary Green

Fatigue, achiness, problems sleeping at night or lacking focus during the day. While all are very basic symptoms that many people seem to experience, these (and others) are all signs that your body is trying to tell you something. And if persistent, they very well could be the result of a low level of thyroid hormone.

Such was the case with Boston native Ronni Hochman.

In her early 40s, Hochman began experiencing a host of seemingly disconnected maladies that had begun taking a toll on her daily life. “I was tired, I had aches and pains, my face was pale and puffy, I had an irritable bowel, I was cold all of the time, basically my entire system seemed to be a little off,” she reminisces.

In what she refers to as a two-year “process of elimination,” Hochman underwent a number of procedures ordered by her internist to determine what was causing her symptoms, particularly her “out of synch” GI tract. Among them was a colonoscopy to test for colon cancer or other gastrointestinal disorders, which came back negative, as well as a lactose intolerance test, which also produced negative results.

“Although it took a little longer than I wished to be diagnosed, ultimately what I needed was one simple blood test, which was finally conducted and revealed my thyroid hormone levels were extremely low, so I was diagnosed immediately with hypothyroidism as it was evident that this is what was causing my problems,” she notes.

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid - a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck that influences the way your body produces energy and uses it, controls your body temperature and helps your organs stay on track and working well - produces insufficient thyroid hormone, affecting every cell, tissue and organ in the body.

Once diagnosed, Hochman was referred to endocrinologist and thyroid expert Dr. Jeffrey Garber, Chief of the Endocrinology Division at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and a member of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals endocrine divisions.

“There are a number of reasons people with hypothyroidism often go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed, and Ronni’s case was a classic example of that,” Dr. Garber advises. “The symptoms are not specific or special. Some of us experience them some of the time, and a lot of us experience a fair number of them on a regular basis. So, it’s a masquerader, in a sense.”

“The way to home in on the condition is to ask yourself if these are symptoms you’ve had for years and years, or if something’s changed and they’re more severe or persistent,” he continues. “This is particularly important if you’re at risk or have a family history.”

“Ironically, when I told my mom of my diagnosis, she informed me that she was hypothyroid too, so there was a family history that I was unaware of before I was diagnosed,” Hochman adds. “If I had known that ahead of time, I would have been able to bring that to the attention of my doctor and my problem may have been addressed a little more quickly.”

Dr. Garber prescribed levothyroxine for Hochman, a synthetic hormone taken once a day at the same time of day that replaces the hormone normally produced by the thyroid gland and the gold standard for hypothyroidism treatment.

Although she initially experienced some side effects from the medication – she specifically mentions delayed word recall – once her body adjusted to the medication, she was back to normal in short order. “The medication changed my life dramatically,” Hochman says. “My body began working the way it’s supposed to when it’s operating under proper levels of thyroid hormone. That’s why it’s so important that people are aware, because the thyroid does control so many of the body’s systems.”

Dr. Garber is quick to note the perils of an undiagnosed thyroid problem beyond the inconvenience it presents.

“It needs to be emphasized that a delayed diagnosis comes with a price,” he says. “People can develop heart conditions as a result of their blood pressure being elevated or their cholesterol being up. And, in Ronni’s case, a colonoscopy being done on someone who’s as profoundly hypothyroid as she was at the time can be perilous, as people who are hypothyroid are exquisitely sensitive to sedation. It’s fortunate that she was as healthy as she was.”

He encourages patients to engage their doctors and start the conversation by asking, “Could this be my thyroid?” “The good news is that thyroid disease is easily detectable given the correct blood test,” he says.

These days, 20 years after her diagnosis, Hochman is as fit as a fiddle and works full-time in account management for an award-winning communications solutions company. Still taking her once-daily levothyroxine, she undergoes annual checkups with Dr. Garber to make sure her thyroid levels are where they need to be. “On occasion we’ve adjusted my dosage, which is not uncommon, but I’ve been consistent with taking my medication to make sure those thyroid hormone levels remain consistent. They keep my life in balance.”

For more information about hypothyroidism, as well as other thyroid conditions, their causes, symptoms and treatment, visit www.thyroidawareness.com.