I thought I was losing the plot until I found out my surprising diagnosis

One million Aussies live undiagnosed with a disorder that's life-changing if not treated. I know because I have it, says Lollie Barr

Lollie Barr smiling (left) and looking at the camera (right).
Lollie Barr says her thyroid symptoms sucked the joy out of her life. Source: Supplied

It was a list of symptoms that could have been easily attributed to a host of conditions or simply resulted from the stresses and strains of being a human living on this planet in the 21st century.

I was suffering from a bone-weary exhaustion that saw me nod off on the loo at work, weight gain, massive mood swings, severe brain fog, dry, scaly skin, brittle hair, and an oddly swollen face and neck, which I attributed to getting older, having recently turned thirty.

Yet when I asked friends if I looked different, they politely told me I looked great, but I didn't look great or feel great.

Over time, I felt increasingly worn down as my energy and thinking speed slowed. My concentration and ability to create a cohesive thought dwindled, making work a nightmare. It wasn't normal — I was sure of it because even my eyelids were swollen.

There was also that moment when I was crying and laughing hysterically simultaneously, which was the weirdest emotional experience of my life. In truth, the joy had been sucked out of life. Then, thankfully, my neck swelled so much I resembled a platypus with cheek pouches stuffed with meat pies — that finally pushed me to get help.

When I rocked up at the doctor with my bizarre list of symptoms, the elderly locum filling in for my regular doctor declared: "You don't need a doctor, my dear. You need a psychiatrist!"

Thankfully, my humpy neck was enough for him to send me to the hospital for tests in case I had Mumps. Two simple blood tests revealed I had severe Hypothyroidism.

Close up of swelling on woman's neck.
Thyroid disorders often result in patients having a swollen neck and face. Source: Getty

I can't tell you the relief that there was something physically wrong with me, as I began to believe I was a total hypochondriac freaking out because all my clothes were too small.

I'm sharing my story because this month marks Thyroid Awareness Month, and according to the Australian Thyroid Foundation, over one million Australians are living with an undiagnosed thyroid disorder.

Before my diagnosis, I was barely even aware of the Thyroid Gland—a small bow-shaped organ in your neck that is a powerhouse that gives the body and mind energy to perform.

Thyroid hormones are critical to your metabolism (weight control), energy, growth, mental function, moods, and emotions. While my thyroid was underactive, it can go the other way and become overactive, resulting in hyperthyroidism.

There is also thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland), as in Hashimoto's disease, which attacks the thyroid gland.

A medical diagram shows the thyroid glad which is a bowtie-shaped organ in the neck.
Many people aren't even sure what the thyroid gland is. Source: Getty

According to Beverley Garside, CEO of the Australian Thyroid Foundation, thyroid symptoms can be the same or similar to other health conditions and overlooked or, in some cases, misdiagnosed.

"Patients need to be aware that symptoms can mask other disorders,' she said.

"Being aware of thyroid family history is very important, as thyroid autoimmune disease is a genetic disorder that can be passed through generations and is the most common reason for developing a thyroid disorder."

Garside recommends speaking to your GP about thyroid pathology tests to determine or eliminate a thyroid disorder.

"Patients who suffer from weight gain or weight loss, feel the cold or heat more than normal, constipation or diarrhoea, fertility problems, dry skin and hair loss, depression, anxiety, and many other symptoms need to be aware and ask to have thyroid testing and investigation to ensure nothing is overlooked," she said.

Woman sits on the floor with her head in her hands.
Lollie was overpowered by exhaustion before her thyroid disorder was diagnosed. Source: Getty

"If a patient has changes to their thyroid gland, including pain, enlargement, a stubborn cough, or trouble speaking or breathing, a thyroid ultrasound is needed to show the physical health of the thyroid gland."

Women contemplating pregnancy should also be hyper-aware of their thyroid health, as iodine deficiency in Australia is prevalent in this life stage.

"Women need to ensure they include a daily iodine supplement before, during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding to protect their pregnancy and the development of the foetus, which is recommended by the NHMRC," said Garside.

"Women also need to ensure their thyroid function is tested before and during their pregnancy to ensure their thyroid function is adequate. Thyroid hormone is essential during this time.”

In my case, I was prescribed thyroid replacement hormone treatment called Levothyroxine, which I have to take daily for life. Within six weeks, my energy returned, and the bad emotional weather cleared, as did my concentration and, over the next three months, my face.

Thyroid disorders can affect all Australians from newborns to the elderly, so it's good to be aware. Now you know, don't ignore symptoms or changes to your thyroid health.

Oh, and happy Thyroid Awareness month!

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