Making waves: Thyroid disease can happen to anyone, just ask ‘Baywatch’ star Gena Lee Nolin.
Are you struggling with exhaustion, noticeable weight-gain and severe moodiness? If you answered “yes” to all three questions, you may be dealing with thyroid disease.
The thyroid gland manufactures hormones that control metabolism. Thyroid disease occurs when the thyroid gland is either creating too many hormones (hyperthyroidism) or not enough (hypothyroidism). Although hypothyroidism is much more common, any type of thyroid dysfunction affects critical body functions such as energy level and heart rate, according to the American Thyroid Association.
Dr. Alan Christianson, a naturopathic medical doctor for Integrative Health in Scottsdale, says thyroid disease is not a common topic of conversation, but it may affect more women than most research shows.
He says that if one were to look at optimal standards, it’s likely that 20 to 25 percent of the adult population may have some degree of thyroid dysfunction, compared with 10 percent shown by most conservative evidence.
Christianson adds that women are especially vulnerable to thyroid disease during pregnancy. In fact, one of Christianson’s patients, Gena Lee Nolin, a Scottsdale resident and former star of “Baywatch,” says she suffered a severe case of thyroid disease during pregnancy. She says the worst part was being misdiagnosed with possible psychological problems and atrial fibrillation (AFIB) due to irregular heart rates.
Christianson says thyroid disease is often overlooked because the symptoms that occur in the earlier stages, such as depression, fatigue, and/or weight gain, are symptoms a lot of people have for other reasons. Most doctors are only trained to identify thyroid disease when it is very advanced — and usually that’s five to seven years down the road, he adds.
Nolin says she was up to 175 pounds (pre-pregnancy), felt achy and was sick with constant flu-like symptoms.
“They tested me for Valley Fever; they tested me for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) — pretty much everything,” Nolin says. “And then the doctor threw out all these things and said, ‘You need talk to a psychiatrist. It could be in your head.’ So he gave me a card, and I left the appointment crying.”
Later, when Nolin was seven weeks pregnant, she was walking on the treadmill and noticed that her heart started to race and beat irregularly. She was misdiagnosed with AFIB because of her symptoms. In realty, it was thyroid disease, for which she was never screened.
Christianson says even if a pregnant woman does not have symptoms of thyroid disease, she should always be tested for it during a routine checkup.
“There are changes that take place within the immune and the body’s hormone system during pregnancy that can push thyroid disease over the edge if it’s in the shadows waiting to start,” Christianson says.
After her diagnosis with AFIB, Nolin had another cardiac attack — this time seven months into her pregnancy — and was rushed to the hospital where, again, she was never screened for thyroid disease.
“When I was there, they wanted to cardiac-convert me, which is like what you see on ‘ER’ when they put the panels on someone, and the body jumps,” Nolin recalls. “They wanted to stop and restart my heart with (me) seven months pregnant, which is just crazy.”
She was never diagnosed until a routine checkup. Christianson says it was sad she wasn’t tested for thyroid disease until then because it could have saved her a lot of trouble.
“(After the diagnosis), I was relieved to hear that I was diagnosed with something and that it wasn’t in my head after all,” Nolin says.
Nolin is a frequent public speaker and thyroid patient advocate. She even created a Facebook page called “Thyroid Sexy” for thyroid awareness and support. The page has more than 16,000 members.
Nolin says she feels as though it’s her mission to call attention to thyroid disease.
“I went through so much for so long, and I suffered silently,” Nolin says. “If I can shed light or help somebody else out there that is frustrated, alone and not taken seriously, then I’ve done something.”
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