I’m not sure I’m the person you want to hear from, but I do have experience with thyroid problems.
Eleven years ago, a few months after my second child was born, I noticed a lump at the base of my throat, right in the center just above the notch of my collarbone. I went to a doctor who sent me to have a thyroid scan done, after which I was referred to an endocrinologist. Because the scan showed several large growths of unknown type throughout my thyroid, I was referred for surgery (one of the smaller growths had been, by chance, on the isthmus of the thyroid, so I could see it). Because of the number of growths and their positions, the surgeon ended up removing pretty much all of my thyroid gland. None of the growths was cancerous, although the lab report mentioned “the presence of giant multi-nucleated cells,” which sounded ominous to me. I feel happy to be rid of it, given the possibility it would have become cancerous over time.
Because I now have no thyroid at all, I have to take medication for the rest of my life. It’s been…well, incredibly easy, really. I take a pill when I first get up in the morning, and I go on with life perfectly well. I have a blood test done once a year to check my hormone levels, and if I feel symptoms, I go in more often. When I have low thyroid levels, I feel unusually tired in a specific way, as if I’m half asleep or moving through liquid all day, my skin gets very dry and my heels crack at the drop of a hat, and my hair starts falling out. I’ve been stable on medication for many years now, though, and I’ve only had to change dosage once in the past six years, after I lost a significant amount of weight.
Since you mention a very rapid heartbeat, it sounds as if you may be hyperthyroid. This can produce an irregular heartbeat, fatigue, insomnia, breathlessness, and chest pain. I’m obviously hypothyroid, so my regimen is intended to replace the hormone my body can’t make. For hyperthyroid, they often prescribe a high dosage of thyroid medication in order to suppress your own thyroid hormone production. This page describes the thyroid mechanism.
I take Levoxyl, but there are several different types of thyroid medication. The only tricky thing about them is that, unlike most other drugs, people often react differently to different brands of thyroid medicines. Once you find one that works well for you, it’s wise to stick with it. It’s not a terribly expensive medication - I buy mine off my HMO plan in quantities of 100 because it’s cheaper than paying my prescription copay for each month’s supply.
Some things to remember to make thyroid medication work best for you:
Take it at the same time every morning, as early as possible (they say to take it around 6 or 7 a.m., but I just take it when I get up).
Don’t take any vitamin or mineral supplements within an hour of the thyroid pill. They can interfere with its absorption.
After you take your pill, wait at least half an hour before eating or drinking milk, again to let your body absorb it properly.
If you forget a pill in the early morning, you can take it a little later, but don’t take it late in the day. High thyroid levels can interfere with sleep.
It takes time for thyroid levels to even out. You may not notice a significant effect from changes in dosage for at least a few days or even a few weeks.
Contrary to the above statement and to what the doctors tell me, I can feel a change in my body if I forget even one pill. By 5 p.m., unfortunately too late to take it, I start to feel groggy and slow-witted. I don’t suffer any ill-effects the next day after I take my normal dose, however, and I don’t get any more severe symptoms.
If the simple thyroid test (i.e., the cheap blood test) shows that your thyroid function is “within normal range,” but you don’t feel right, persist in asking your doctor for the more complex (expensive) tests. For example, before my surgery, my lab results never got any lower than “low normal,” but I certainly wasn’t functioning normally. Be sure you can work well with your doctor and that s/he listens to you.
I’ve often thought that if I have to be dependent on medication, this is the right type to need. It’s not all that costly, it mimics the body’s normal function, and I have had no side effects at all. I tend to be pretty resistant to taking any kind of drug or having any medical intervention that isn’t absolutely necessary, but after the first shock that something had gone wrong with my body, I adjusted very well to this.