Oprah Endorses… the Thyroid

Oprah’s got a new pet project: thyroid disease.

Oprah_winfrey Yup. Early last week, Oprah showcased her own “wake-up call for women” in learning that her sleep disorders and weight gain were in fact symptoms of a defective thyroid, that butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that is “widely viewed as a euphemism for being fat.” Thyroid disorders are extremely common in people with diabetes, especially women.

Some might say it’s about time: Would you believe that the NY Times-owned About.com has actually been running a campaign to get Oprah to publicly recognize this common condition? A post from March ’07 titled “Why Isn’t Thyroid Disease Front Page News?” notes: “For years, Oprah has made women’s health issues the focus of her programs. She has dedicated numerous episodes of her popular and influential show to the topics of menopause, low sex drive, weight loss, perimenopause. And yet, time and again, as she and her health experts have listened to women complain of their fatigue, difficulty losing weight, depression, hair loss, and lack of sex drive, thyroid disease has never been mentioned!”

As NY Times health blogger Tara Parker-Pope points out, “The thyroid… has gotten some celebrity attention in the past. Former president George Bush and his wife Barbara both suffered from thyroid problems, as did Olympic track stars Gail Devers and Carl Lewis. But the reality is that nothing compares to Oprah in terms of raising public awareness about anything, whether it’s a favorite book, a politician or a disease.”

No kidding. Look what Oprah’s done for breast cancer awareness and menopause. Now — finally — she’s writing about thyroid problems in her O magazine. Let’s hope this helps alert people to thyroid disease, a chronic condition that can cause exhaustion, sleep problems, weight changes, depression, low sex drive, hair loss, feeling cold or hot, diarrhea or constipation. Nobody’s idea of fun. But there may be as many as 13 million Americans walking around with undiagnosed thyroid disease, according to MedScape. The thing is, thyroid disease develops gradually, and the symptoms are so piecemeal they can easily be misdiagnosed or ignored.

About that diabetes-and-thyroid connection, see my little primer on thyroid conditions, and why skipping your thyroid meds is NOT a good strategy for weight loss.

Many of us living with Type 1 diabetes are all-too-familiar with the auto-immune version, aka Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. It is my experience that with proper medication (a simple once-a-morning tablet), this condition isn’t the least bit bothersome. But unrecognized, or improperly treated, it sure can make you feel like crap.

Some resources:

See About.com’s Top 10 Signs You Might Have a Thyroid Problem HERE

* Chat about diabetes and thyroid disease HERE

* Check out the Thyroid Disease and Diabetes Support Group at MySpace

Moral of the story: Celebrity endorsements do change the world, after all. Take good care of your butterfly!


9 Responses

  1. Jolene
    Jolene October 23, 2007 at 5:57 am | | Reply

    I remember when I was dealing with getting the right treatment and hanging out on the Thyroid boards on About.com and it was and still is frustrating this women that can move countries couldn’t help our the women suffereing from this condition. I don’t talk about it much now because 2 pills a day and I’m fine, but there are many that aren’t fine out there!

  2. Rachel
    Rachel October 23, 2007 at 6:14 am | | Reply

    I was very glad to see Oprah speaking out about this. It’s so easy to feel so much better by taking thyroid replacement for hypothyroid…wish that could be the case with more conditions!?!

  3. Rosalind Joffe
    Rosalind Joffe October 23, 2007 at 2:31 pm | | Reply

    Hooray for Oprah. I worry that the way you (or she) are describing this, it sounds as if it should always be easily treatable. I heard people say that they wish they had Diabetes because it’s at least something that you can “manage” (as compared to other autoimmune diseases. Be careful what you wish for – and be careful not to mnimize living with any chronic disease(although I know you aren’t Amy. I’ve had clients who are completely debilitated with Hashimoto’s disease.

    On another note: Hooray Oprah! I’d like to see her talk about how hard it is for women with autoimmune diseases to keep working! Anyone got any connections?

  4. Janie
    Janie October 23, 2007 at 2:31 pm | | Reply

    To the contrary, Oprah has done a HUGE disservice to MILLIONS of thyroid patients, and to this day continues to ignore the REAL story…as well as ignoring at least 2 years of emails from thyroid patients, PLEADING her to tell about the fallacy of T4-only meds and the lousy TSH, and a MUCH better treatment. Go here and read the October 17, 2007 post and weep: http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/blog

    Oprah lives on another planet!!

  5. AmyT
    AmyT October 23, 2007 at 2:36 pm | | Reply

    Thanks for adding your insight at my request, Janie. That’s valuable info for all the folks out there struggling with thyroid problems.

  6. Albert
    Albert October 23, 2007 at 9:52 pm | | Reply

    just like the misconception between type 1 and type 2… and the mislead assumption of the existence of a cure… there’s always a hidden side of reality that the general public will completely miss.

    the link to that blog is much appreciated Janie

  7. Sarah
    Sarah October 24, 2007 at 9:29 am | | Reply

    For the record, Hashimoto’s in some people is NOT easy to treat. Many people with Hashi’s NEVER feel better on thyroid replacement. Many people need specific doses of thyroid hormone that cannot be adjusted daily like insulin. There is no easy daily “fine tuning”.

    I know because I am one of them. I’ve had Hashi’s since I was 10. You read that right, 10. Add Type 1 to the mix, Celiac Disease, asmtha, and multiple allergies, and it’s no wonder I feel like crap.

    My thyroid levels have been swinging for the past 15(!) years. They never stabilize, and I still make some of my own thyroid hormone from time to time. My TSH has gone from 3.5 to 30 in less than TWO WEEKS.

    I felt like a fatigued zombie for years, even though my lab work said I was in “normal range”. But how can anyone know what “normal” thyroid levels are for *me”, before this disease?

    I now take a combo of T3/T4 2-3x daily and feel somewhat better, but not 100%.

    Thanks for making people aware of the fact that autoimmune thyroid disease is more common in Type 1 diabetics. Autoimmunity….the gift that keeps on giving!

  8. Kevin
    Kevin October 24, 2007 at 9:40 am | | Reply

    Thanks Sarah for pointing out that Hashimoto’s can be tricky to treat.

    After getting the synthroid levels into the normal range, some people, myself included, still don’t feel like leaping tall buildings in a single bound and not all docs are convinced that they need to treat the feeling beyond getting you into the normal range for T3/T4 on your labs.

    In my case, I ended up cutting down on synthroid (T4 replacement) and adding Cytomel 2 x /day as a straight T3 replacement. Normally, it is assumed that your body will convert the synthroid into T3 as necessary but that didn’t work for me.

    Finally, we got that figured out and labs were good for the most part but I still didn’t feel great although I did feel better.

    Only through 3 years of driving for feeling better did we diagnose yet another condition and once we added another hormone replacement therapy I felt like a million bucks.

    So, be persistent and if need be, switch endocrinologists as I did. I cringe to think what my life would be like today had I settled for straight synthroid replacement and been convinced by my first endo that I was all better according to my lab results.

    As we say in diabetes as well, treat the patient not the numbers.

  9. Sarah
    Sarah October 24, 2007 at 3:51 pm | | Reply

    Glad to hear I’m not alone, Kevin! You didn’t happen to develop Addison’s did you? I’m terrified that’s my “next” present…oh well….that’s life!

    If it *was* Addison’s, can you list your symptoms and how you were dx? I have all the textbook symptoms and yet my ACTH came back normal. Go figure.

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