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Thyroid disorder:The silent disease no one talks about.



Thyroid disorderThe more Rehema Kahurananga ate the more she got thinner. “Weird, isn’t it?” she rightly thought.

All things topsy-turvy, she recalls feeling much under the weather.

What ailed her remained a puzzle to her friends and colleagues. At a time when humanity is struggling to keep pace with new illnesses, Rehema knew she didn’t have a lot of time to second guess.

The will power however, she admits, was below sufficient.

“Generally, I was not feeling well. All the symptoms of bad health were there. However, I would find energy to push through a day at a time. Somehow, I shelved going for tests,” she recounts, the events of 2007 still clear in her mind.

While Rehema could ride the waves of ‘just-being-ok’ as time lapsed, her sister, with whom they lived together, was concerned about her flailing health. She asked her to go for a general medical check-up to unearth the crux.

A date at the hospital was promptly arranged and varied tests done. Initially, the doctor issuing the results pronounced Rehema healthy. But later at home, on close scrutiny, her sister noticed ‘hyperthyroidism’ on the results imprint.

“We were shocked that what the doctor said and what was on the results were different. We went back to seek for more explanation. The medic admitted to the misnomer and diagnosed my condition rightfully as the results read,” says Rehema. She was referred to an endocrinologist at a leading private hospital. Though the new developments predicted more gloom for her, she appreciated knowing what ailed her.

She describes feeling “like one who had taken 85 cups of coffee,” at a go. But that was just superficial: not only was she ‘high’ with caffeine, she recalls struggling with her emotions. Losing weight mysteriously had already impaled her with deep fears.

And not forgetting a fierce struggle with a throbbing heartbeat and heat production machinery that seemed to be on overdrive all the time. While she did a good job keeping herself together, Rehema admits resorting to unorthodox means of surviving the symptomatic hot flushes that came with her condition. She says: “I used to feel very hot inside my body.

I couldn’t explain this heat and therefore at work I would open all windows wide to channel out the heat. I wanted to be as comfortable as possible.” On her first visit to the doctor, to her delight, Rehema was informed that her condition could be managed. She was, however, not assured of total cure. Hope was smiling from the horizon and all she could do is hold strong.

The flood of heat that often captured her body is a typical symptom of a hyperactive thyroid. Dr Paul Ngugi, an endocrinologist at Kenyatta National Hospital says an overactive thyroid prompts a fast heartbeat and sweaty body.

“Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), produced by thyroid glands, controls metabolism. It controls the rate of digestion; how the food is assimilated; how fast it is respired to produce energy; and how that energy is dispensed,” Ngungi says. “An overproduction of TSH therefore can accelerate a lot of body processes: heartbeat, sweating, moods, and anxiety.”

Overproduction of TSH literally captures all faculties of physical health, Ngugi points out that in extreme cases – if left unchecked – hyperthyroidism causes heart diseases, bone problems and infertility.

For a healthy person, the normal heartrate has been determined to be 72 beats per minute. In Rehema’s situation though, the lowest heart rate she experienced – dolled up and relaxed on a sofa at home – was well over 100 beats per minute. Her health was evidently taking a tangent off course.

Later, her doctor would prescribe a heavy dosage of medicine to counter the overactive thyroid. Sixteen pills everyday became her new norma

Deep inside, she prayed and believed that cure would come. All the while she had monthly appointments with her doctor to examine her progress. This routine continued for over a year. As expected, Rehema began her journey through remission. She started gaining back her weight. Most of her body functions reverted back to normal ranges. And the heat subsided incredibly, at least she noticed.

The thyroid gland is an organ of many facets. While at times it overproduces TSH, like in Rehema’s case, in others it may resort to producing too little, below the body’s demand.

Ngugi calls this hypothyroidism. By contrast, hypothyroidism stems from an underproduction of the thyroid hormone. A drop in hormone production leads to lower energy levels.

“One may feel cold, manifest with a low heart rate and increase in weight,” he says. “Heavy menstruation in women is also a real threat. In others, soft hair develops and eventually falls off.”

Hypothyroidism may also render one incapable of bearing children. As to the extent of mental pressure the two conditions may afflict, Ngugi says: “In hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland behaves like it is on overdrive. This is transmitted to the brain too. An overactive brain stays alert for long, denying the patient enough sleep. As such, the brain is overworked, prompting the anxiety synonymous with sufferers of hyperthyroidism.”

Ngugi asserts that the risk of a hyperthyroidism patient being mistaken for a mental case is remarkable. He further agrees to the possibility that patients of hyperthyroidism may be misdiagnosed for other conditions with similar symptoms – including mood swings. In severe cases, says the medic, a patient may experience a thyroid storm, a sure path into a coma.

Causes of thyroid malfunctions are not clearly defined in medical literature. However, Ngugi cites a variety of possibilities like genetics and bad nutrition. In a considerable number of cases though patients are diagnosed with autoimmune conditions that provoke the thyroid to overproduce TSH.

Rehema suspects her condition may have been instigated by a love for junk and sweet foods. “I am a sweet tooth,” she admits laughingly. “I snacked on cakes, ice crème, French fries... the list is long.” Today though, vegetables and plant products have replaced the sweet food.

According to nutritionist Kepha Nyanumba of AAR, majority of illnesses that afflict humanity could be prevented if everyone ate appropriately – meaning more vegetables and less of animal products. Unfortunately, says Kepha, majority of Kenyans love food that is easy on the tongue which is often processed and sweetened excessively.

Today, Rehema is a healthy woman. She is also a mother of one: the worry of being infertile before starting a family has now dissipated. She however has regular checks with the hospital if her thyroid has reverted back to over activity.

Having gone through hell fire of hyperthyroidism, she has advice for other women: “Never assume that you are fine; it is not always that time of the month; as long as you are feeling unusual, get a second opinion even when a doctor insists you are fine; use available literature to read more about your condition.”  


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